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Stargazing by Jen Wang is inspired by actual events. Christine's parents rent out their in-law to a single mother and her daughter who are struggling to stay afloat. Moon, the daughter, has a reputation for having a temper but Christine and she quickly become friends even though they are so different — or maybe because of their differences.
As time progresses, there are times when Moon's reputed temper shows. She also has some other quirks, like the belief that she's a celestial being. She keeps all of her thoughts, including her crush on their teacher, in a diary sketchbook.
In the background of the ups and downs of Moon and Christine's friendship is the upcoming talent show. At first, I expected the talent show plot to play out like Click by Kayla Miller (2019), but it doesn't. Instead, Christine, who is reluctant to play her violin at the show, takes Moon's lead and lets her choreograph a dance number to a popular kpop single.
With the title Stargazing one might think it's related to Moon's name. Or maybe it's the field trip the class takes to the Griffith Observatory. But there's more and this is where the personal experience comes into play. There's also an afterword with an explanation of the author's experiences and how she drew on them to create Moon's story.
Cat Got Your Cash: 10/30/19
Cat Got Your Cash by Julie Chase is the second book in the Kitty Couture mysteries. Lacy Marie Crocker's favorite designer wants to partner with her on a product line. Excited at the prospect, she agrees to meet with her at her home. Instead, she finds the designer dead, and two frantic siamese kittens.
After she finds the kittens and takes them in, Lacy finds herself being stalked by someone wearing an oversized cat head. Her home and business are both broken into. She needs to find out who murdered the designer before the same thing happens to her.
I found the pacing better in this sophomore volume. The mystery itself was fairly easy to figure out but the cat headed stalker was an unsettling detail.
As the title hints, the cats, do in fact have the cash. Rather, they are well looked after in the deceased's will. Whoever has the cats has the money. Figuring out who is desperate enough to kill for the cat's money is the key ot solving the mystery.
The third book is Cat Got Your Secrets (2017).
Vancouver Island: Sketches And Trip Notes: 10/29/19
Vancouver Island: Sketches And Trip Notes by Albert Ranger is a collection of pen and ink sketches that serve as a snapshot of Vancouver Island in the mid 1990s.
I happened to hear about this book via C John Kerry's review. As we've visited the island thrice and are planning to do so again in 2020, I wanted to read it.
The illustrations are lovely. They capture the island's beauty and they give a great sense of what life was like when Ranger was creating the art.
Of course with twenty-eight years between publication and me reading it, I'm sure the touristy bits of the book are no longer completely accurate. Before our trip next summer, I plan to go through the pages and do internet searches to see what's still there or what might have replaced it.
Everything I Know About You: 10/28/19
Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee is set primarily during a school trip to Washington D.C. For this school it's done in seventh grade — while here where we live, it's an eighth grade event.
Tally and her friends have been paired with their worst enemies — people who bullied them in the past. The teacher running the trip swears that she has put lots of thought into the room assignments and that the goal is for the entire school to come closer together.
Tally is a bit eccentric. She follows her own ironic style and that has been the source of most of her teasing. Sonnet was teased for being the new girl. Caleb aka Spider was teased for being too timid. Tally wants to be with her friends and to protect them from the bullies and the clone girls (a clique of girls who all appear to dress and act the same).
The leader of the clone girls, Ava, is Tally's roommate. To make matters worse, Ava's mother is a chaperone. Interacting with the mother and seeing how she treats her daughter helps Tally realize that things might not be clone perfection for Ava.
Ultimately this book is about a schoolmate recognizing an eating disorder in another student. It's about the struggle to get her to admit she needs help, and to trust oneself to seek help for someone who isn't exactly a friend.
The framing story of Everything I Know About You is the road trip, and thus the road narrative spectrum. As Tally and her classmates are students and are bound by the rules that the teacher and chaperones outlines and are therefore marginalized travelers (66). The destination is the city of Washington, D.C. (00). As the school is close enough to reach Washington by bus and it's a direct route with no stops, I am inferring an interstate route (00). Put all together, this novel is about marginalized travelers going to the city via the interstate.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 28): 10/28/19
I'm continuing to do the daily Inktober drawings, the first time I've made it through an entire October. Below are last week's drawings.
It took one more hour of work to finish "City Lights." Now that it's finished, I"m not sure where I plan to hang it. But it was fun to do!
I also finished "October 2", the grilled cheese and tomato soup painting that started as an Inktober drawing.
Now I"m working on a painting of a cup of ice, again inspired by an Inktober drawing.
On Saturday night we chanced the news of planned power outages and took my husband's parents, who were on a layover between flights, out for a Peruvian meal right on the coast. The restaurant was mostly empty as most people canceled the reservations. They warned us that anything that wasn't cooking by the time the lights went off wouldn't be served. We made it through the entire meal including dessert. We were one of the last people out when they decided to close early at 8PM. Our meal was lovely. On the way home the lights went out.
Today the winds picked up. There are fires burning to the north and east of us and the air quality is terrible. It smells like smoke. It hurts to breath. It stings the eyes. Much of the areas uphill from us are still without power.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
For a Muse of Fire: 10/27/19
For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig is the start of a trilogy set in a fantasy world that draws its influences from the author's Chinese-Hawaiian heritage. The world she has created reminds me of also of Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Jetta and her family are performers. They do shadow puppet shows. Instead of using strings and sticks, each puppet is imbued with the soul of a dead animal. Her last collected soul is of a kitten before things start to fall apart.
The kingdom is in the middle of civil unrest. The army, using the rebellion as cover are restricting travel and are enacting marshal law. Jetta and her family are caught in the middle.
Hellig adds to her world the ephemera one would expect from a complex nation. There is sheet music (and an actual sound track that pre-orders were allowed to download), military reports, correspondence, and maps. All together one is given the sense of a fully realized world of the likes of Tolkein or Silverberg.
The second book, A Kingdom for a Stage (2019) was released on October 8th. I will be posting my review soon.
Wayward Son: 10/26/19
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell is the second of the Simon Snow books or the third of the Fan Girl series, if you consider the Harry Potter fan fiction about going to college and writing fan fiction as the moral start.
Following his transformation and essential dethroning as the Chosen One, Simon has been in a funk. Sure, he's in university and he's living with his boyfriend (and former nemesis) and his best friend, Penelope. Agatha, meanwhile, has gone to the United States for college.
To get Simon out of his funk and to see Agatha, Penelope and Baz plan a road trip across the United States. They use magic to get their tickets and a passport for Simon. Here they use magic to hide Simon's wings, keep the car filled with gas, and for money for motels.
Things, though, almost instantly go pear shaped. First: Penelope's boyfriend breaks up with her. Second, their magic isn't working correctly. Third, Agatha's been kidnapped. Fourth, the country is a lot bigger than they expected ("like driving from London to Moscow"). Fifth, they've gotten the attention of American vampires and other magical creatures.
For all the magic and other paranormal shenanigans, Wayward Son falls at the very bottom, the far extreme of the road narrative spectrum. The existence of magic doesn't automatically make the road narrative fantasy.
As the majority of Simon, Baz, and Penelope's drive across the United States is done on the interstate with infinite gas and fairly easy passage, the three are privileged travelers (00). They further act the part by whinging about how awful everything is, basically reveling in the miserable time they are having.
The route the three take is same one taken in On the Trail to Sunset by Thomas William Wilby and Agnes Anderson Wilby and shares a similar plot. There is the couple taking another person to meet a lover, only then to have to mount a rescue in Las Vegas. Back in the time of the Wilbys' novel, the route ended up being an offroad one, but now in 21st century, it's an interstate route (00).
Finally there is the destination. Ultimately after all the detours, they arrive at their stated goal, the city of San Diego (00). With all the magic and fighting they have managed to pull of the prototypical road trip, going from an Eastern (well, Midwestern) city to a West Coast city via the interstates.
All together Wayward Son is about three privileged travelers driving to the city via the interstates (000000).
There's another book planned in the series, Anyway the Wind Blows. No publication date is available at this time.
The Bone Garden: 10/25/19
The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner opens in a cellar with a tunnel lit by oil that leads under the earth to the graveyard. A maze of paths lead directly to the coffins that sit waiting for Irréelle to harvest the dust of their bones for her mistress, Miss Vesper.
Irréelle's life revolves around keeping Miss Vesper happy. It's an impossible task and Vesper is a horrible and abusive person. Every task undertaken is met with criticism and the threat of death. Vesper claims to have created Irréelle from bone dust, cinnamon and her own will. What she creates she can destroy with just a thought. To give her words more weight, she proves to Irréelle that she can create life from bone dust.
That realization prompts Irréelle to flee for her life into the bone garden — the one place Miss Vesper won't go. It's there that she meets up with children who share her situation and origin story. Together they will do what they can to find the truth to Miss Vesper's story.
Although this middle grade horror is set entirely in confines of Miss Vesper's home, the bone garden, and above ground in the graveyard, it sits comfortably on the road narrative spectrum.
Irréelle, as her name implies (un-real in French), has been created by Miss Vesper. So have her companions. As they are creations, they are scarecrows (99). The children's goal or destination, if you will, is home (66). They want a safe place where they can live without Miss Vesper's abuse. Their route, through the bone garden, through the cemetery, is offroad (66). All together, The Bone Garden is the tale of three scarecrows trying to find a home via an offroad route.
Paper Girls, Volume 6: 10/24/19
Paper Girls, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan is the conclusion of the Paper Girls comic. The four girls, shown on the cover as adults, must work together with their future selves across different chunks in time to save the universe and get home.
My favorite portion of this volume comes in the middle where the panels are long strips of color coded scenes. Each girl is in their own piece of time and are trying to get out of their situation. Their dialog comes together in a decoupage to tell a larger story.
Like so many time travel stories, the characters early on learn they can redo things and to them it seems as if they've only reset things a few times. At the end, it's invariably revealed that they have been stuck in the same time loop for hundreds if not thousands of times. That is the case here.
Like Roger and Dodger in Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (2019), the girls push through to the end by the belief that this time they will transcend the time loop.
Days of Wine and Roquefort: 10/23/19
Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames is the fifth book Cheese Shop Mystery series. Matthew asks Charlotte to take in a visiting sommelier. On a day when Charlotte is busy working in her garage, Noelle is murdered.
Charlotte's main clue is "Hell's key," uttered by Noelle as she was dying. Like the previous books, Noelle's death is tied up with her past. There's also evidence of shading things afoot with the winery she was here to help.
The set up for Noelle's murder reminded me of a pared down Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. While Charlotte does dig deep into Noelle's past, the novel saves us from a lengthy flashback.
Also there is lots of cheese and a number of new recipes to try. Book six is As Gouda as Dead (2015)
It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way: 10/22/19
It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad is a picture book biography of an illustrator whose artwork will probably be familiar to parents and grandparents.
While Kyo Maclear provides the outline of her life from child in Japan, to graphic art in California, to interment at Manzanar, to children's book illustrator, Julie Morstad's illustrations take on the look and style of the things that influenced Gyo Fujikawa until the end where Morstad's pictures capture the illustrator's iconic picture book look.
For parents or grandparents who remember picture books from the 1960s-1990s, Gyo Fujikawa's children (especially the babies) will be a nostalgic hit. I grew up being read a few of her books, in particular: A Child's Book of Poems, her illustrated Mother Goose, and my beloved copy of The Night Before Christmas.
Lalani of the Distant Sea: 10/21/19
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly is set on an island, Sanlagita, near another island. Sanlagita is suffering a drought. There are food and medicine shortages. The head of the village does nothing and refuses to let anyone else help in ways that he cannot.
Lalani has already lost her father and now her mother is ill from pricking her finger while mending fishing nets. The men of the village spend their time building boats and setting sail. Sometimes they fish. Sometimes they aim for the next island over, rumored to be a paradise, lush in fruits and medicinal herbs. The men who head to the island never return.
Lalani, tired of seeing the people she loves suffer decides to do something. At first it's to find solutions on her own island. This leads to being tricked by the beast of the mountain, resulting in a never-ending storm.
When her efforts lead to her ostracism and a deadly mudslide, she realizes she has nothing left to lose. It's at this point she decides to find the island herself, relying on the stories she has grown up with.
Mixed in with the tale of Sanlagita's suffering are the stories that make the fabric of the island's culture. They are based on Filipino folklore. Each story, beautifully illustrated by Lian Cho begin with "Imagine you're...." Each one offers a glimpse into the life of a creature, mystical creature, god, monster, and so forth.
Lalani's knowledge of the stories and her empathy for all the characters in the stories is what allows her to succeed where others fail.
Lalani, who is facing the reality of being a literal orphan given her mother's illness, and her own ostracism from the village, is an orphan or lone traveler (FF). It's her solitude and the fact she has already lost so much that gives her the best chance of success.
Her destination is the wildlands (99) of a mystical island. It's uninhabited (by humans) and quite possibly inhabited by magical creatures, monsters, and gods.
Her route is offroad, namely over the untamed ocean and through a magical fog that is there to prevent the island from being found. The fog confuses sailors and usually leads to them either starving or drowning. Sometimes it ends up worse with the sailors killing each other. Lalani's determination, solitude, and knowledge of the stories helps her stay on the right path.
Put all together, Lalani's journey is the tale of an orphan going to the wildlands via an offroad route (FF9966).
Lalani of the Distant Sea takes a while to get started and the oral tradition of story telling might not be for everyone. That said, it's a memorable book and one that would lend itself to a classroom story time.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 21): 10/21/19
I'm making progress on "City Lights." I think I have another two hours of work before it will be finished. It's a little hard to tell since it's an abstract. Abstracts aren't my usual style, so it's uncharted territory for me.
I'm sticking with Inktober and having fun. I'm not following any of the prompts, just drawing by my whim for the day.
What I read:
I finished eight books which is better than I was hoping to accomplish. I have a couple thick books coming up, so my overall numbers will probably be lower next week.
What I'm reading:
An Elephant is Not a Cat: 10/20/19
What is it about cats and elephants? What is it about comparing one to the other? Or pretending that one is the other? Recent examples of this picture book phenomena are My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World and When the Silliest Cat Was Small both by Gilles Bachelet.
But forty-four years before the latest Bachelet book there was An Elephant is Not a Cat by Alvin Tresselt, written for Parents Magazine. It's set in the Netherlands at a wind mill that specializes in corn meal. I frankly have never heard of the Dutch growing corn, but it's apparently one of their top crops along with barley, potatoes, surgar beets, and wheat (Nation's Encyclopedia, (accessed June 15, 2017)
The gist of the plot is that a mouse has gotten into the mill and is seen helping itself to the corn kernels. So the husband is sent off to get a cat and comes back with an elephant.
The elephant besides being too big and completely ineffectual at hunting mice, ends up eating through most of their clients' corn. Again, while reading this book, I was having trouble imagining an elephant in a wind mill eating corn by the ton, but apparently they can eat corn. They prefer grass, fruit, bamboo, and bananas. But if corn is what is available, they will eat it. An elephant can eat between 330 to 660 pounds of food every day. ("What do Elephants Eat", Macroevolution. Accessed June 15, 2017) So yeah, an elephant would be a bad idea.
While An Elephant is Not a Cat seems like a strange product of the early 1960s, it's apparently grounded in facts. Or at least built plausibility of certain facts. It's a story that reads as surreal but isn't as surreal as it seems.
The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue: 10/19/19
The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser is the third in the Vanderbeekers series. It takes place over the course of the first week of April, spring break.
Mrs. Vanderbeeker has been baking cookies and selling them out of her kitchen and she's been offered a feature in a local foodie magazine. But there's one big hang-up, the safety inspector is coming to see her set-up so she can get her permit.
New York state is understaffed when it comes to food safety inspectors. The man assigned to the Vanderbeekers doesn't like to keep his appointment times. He likes to come early and so he does. He arrives during a torrential rainstorm while the Vanderbeeker siblings are home alone. With a home full of kids and pets the inspection doesn't go well.
The Vanderebeeker children decide it's on them to fix the situation. They have five days before the photoshoot and six days before their mother's birthday. It seems like an impossible task, but they are determined to make it happen.
Besides getting the mother's baking business back on track, there is a side plot involving stray animals. Someone is dropping them off outside the Vanderbeeker home. With the rule that a commercial kitchen has to be free of pets, they don't want the animals. But they also can't just abandon them. The neighborhood animal shelter is already at capacity and it's likely their animals will be euthanized.
Fixing the animal problem and fixing the baking problem lead to a brilliant idea. The answer comes organically and isn't something that can ultimately be solved in the span of one week.
There is a fourth book planned for sometime next year. According to the back of book, it will be titled Vanderbeekers Lost and Found.
Archimancy by J.A. White is the start of the middle grade Shadow School series. The book opens on the first day of a new school year as Cordelia Liu, recently moved to Vermont from California, is trying to find her classes in a school that could be a cousin of the Winchester Mystery House.
In P.E. on her first day, Cordelia encounters a crying boy clad in pajamas. She tries to help him and realizes that she can see right through him. He is her first ghost, one of many she will come to learn are haunting the school.
The school is built on the concept of archimancy — just as Hill House and Brunhilde tower (in The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff (2018). It isn't though, like the Winchester house, despite initial appearances. That home was built to appease ghosts, the other buildings were constructed to encourage hauntings — to literally trap ghosts.
The book has three distinct parts: the discovery of the ghosts, the attempts to help the ghosts, and the fight to defeat the poltergeists who are feeding off the ghosts. The unraveling of the narration reminds me a bit of the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, though told in a linear fashion.
Also like my other examples, Archimancy fits on the road narrative spectrum, even though it is almost entirely held within the confines of the Shadow School.
Cordelia and her two friends, Benji and Agnes, are marginalized travelers (66). They are students and they can only do their investigating during school hours or with permission from adults (parents, teachers, administrators). Their agency, is thus, limited.
The destination like my other examples is uhoria (CC). It's uhoria for two reasons. The first is the history of the school, the Shadow family, and the school's construction. Understanding these things from the past is what makes solving the current problem possible for Cordelia, Benji, and Agnes.
But there is also the paranormal aspect — the ghosts. Ghosts as I've stated before are one way for a destination "out of time" to be possible. Each of the ghosts at Shadow School are reliving bubbles of time, their last goals in life that have carried over to death.
Finally there is the route taken. The structure of the school combined with the dangers posed by being there after dark makes it a maze (CC) It's not a labyrinth because death is a genuine possibility; a previous janitor has died at the school.
Put all together, Archimancy is the tale of marginalized travelers going to uhoria via the maze.
The Shadow School series currently sold as a three book deal, but no dates for the second and third books have been posted yet. I intend to continue reading the series as books are released.
The Okay Witch: 10/17/19
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner is a debut graphic novel about a single mom and her daughter living in a Massachusetts town with a strong history of witch hunting. As the town festival celebrating its most famous witch hunt, daughter Moth comes into her powers and only then does her mother tell her the truth.
Meanwhile, Moth's new friend ends up being the son (from a previous marriage) of the mayor. They have ties to the original mayor, the notorious witch hunter.
The set up reminds me more of Bewitched than Sabrina. Witches are immortal because of the bargain they made with Hecate. They have a world separate from the mundane world and they dress in flowing robes similar to the witches and warlocks of the TV show. Moth's grandmother also reminds me of a younger, less flamboyant, but still just as formidable Endora.
My favorite character, though, is hands down, Moth's familiar and mentor. Familiars often talk, but rarely are they possessed by the ghost of an antiques dealer.
The basic theme of The Okay Witch is the humans are the true monsters, especially those who boost themselves on the sins of their forefathers. The climax involves a supernatural showdown involving a host of angry dead mayors and Moth's family.
The book has a few pacing issues but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future books by Emma Steinkellner.
Shelved Under Murder: 10/16/19
Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert is the second of the Blue Ridge Library mystery series. While the library is preparing for the annual Heritage Festival, library director Amy Webber finds the body of a local artist in her studio, killed with her own pallet knife.
Mysteries involving dead artists, especially struggling ones, always brings to mind forgery plots. This novel doesn't disappoint. Sure enough, there's forgery afoot, missing paintings looted during WWII suddenly resurfacing, and an old mystery involving Amy's father.
I don't know if every book in this series will include a modern day and a cold case, but I've enjoyed the first two that have used this plot device.
The third book in the series is Past Due for Murder which came out in February of 2019.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass: 10/15/19
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh is another YA graphic novel standalone from DC Ink. This one reimagines a teenage origin story for Harleen Quinzel.
Harley Quinn was created as a one time character for Batman the Animated Series and was brought to life by the voice work of Arleen Sorkin. She debuted on "Joker's Favor" (season 1, episode 7) and went on to be in eight more in the series, plus a few more in Superman: The Animated Series, The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. She's also been in various video games.
I realize that it's been about thirty years and she's now part of the comics, and has been in various live action films. Those versions, I admit, I haven't seen. Regardless, her original incarnation is still iconic.
In Tamaki's version, Harley arrives to Gotham via a bus to live with her grandmother while her mother spends a year working on a cruise ship. Unfortunately, grandma is dead, and her landlord decides to let Harley stay since the rent is paid up. The landlord also happens to be the owner of a drag queen review and he and his cast give Harley her first costume ideas.
Meanwhile at school Harley meets up with Ivy who will of course later become Poison Ivy. Here, she is already trying to change the world by protesting the the all male film club, run by John Kane, son of two evil developers who want to gentrify the neighborhood Harleen and Ivy live in.
This is all well and good. I wish they had just stuck with Harleen and Ivy getting in trouble together to save their neighborhood. It would have been enough to let their friendship develop outside the later relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn.
But no. There is a Joker here, but he's a proto-Joker who, yes, attends the same school as Harleen, Ivy, and presumably Bruce. While he's manipulative and petty, he's not to the point of being the psychopath he will be.
Instead, he's a spoiled rich boy wearing a stupid mask and designer threads. It also seems to be implied that Harleen and Ivy's protests at school are what inspire him to don the costume. If that's the case, then who murdered Bruce's parents? I ask this because Batman makes a brief appearance near the end.
Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus: 10/14/19
Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling is the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017). Aven and Zion are starting high school without their friend Connor. He's moved to Chandler to be with his father.
Aven goes into high school with a positive attitude and falls for an older boy. He seems to like her and isn't teasing her for being armless. Zion, though, has nothing nice to say about him and continually warns her about him.
At this point in the book, I was willing to believe Joshua was like Caleb's former bully in Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee (2018). I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, just like Aven is. That is, until he finds the most public way to humiliate her.
What follows is an emotional death spiral for Aven. She misses a week of school and is eventually forced to go back by her parents. She refuses to open up about what happened and can't recognize that she has genuine friends, and a genuine potential boyfriend in Zion's brother.
It's only through her friendship with Henry, the elderly employee at the amusement park, that she begins to recognize her own emotional spiral into depression. Henry is living with dementia — but even when he can't remember who she is, he's still able to give good advice.
There's a side plot where Aven and Henry connect over being orphans. Now, Aven knows her grandmother, Josephine, but doesn't know anything about her grandfather or her biological father. Henry knows even less, having only vague memories of an orphanage in Chicago. Aven takes her desire to find her father to help Henry find his family instead.
Thankfully Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus has a happy and satisfying ending. Aven goes through so much but manages to come out stronger and more confident for all of it. She also manages to deal with a bully that has been plaguing kids for years.
I don't know if there will be a third book about Aven. If there is, I will read it.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 14): 10/14/19
I'm continuing with Inktober. Below are some of the ones I created last week.
I made progress on my second fireworks painting. This one is an abstract and is called "City Lights."
I recently bought a bunch of small canvases of difference sizes and shapes. My plan is to paint some smaller, affordable pieces, and restart my Etsy shop. I'm taking some inspiration from my Inktober drawings.
Meanwhile, my daughter's Halloween costume is nearly complete. She's been working on detangling her wig. This coming weekend she plans to style it.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Speed of Life: 10/13/19
Speed of Life by Carol Weston is a middle grade novel about the unexpected outcomes of blending a family. Sofia and her dad have lived together comfortably in their routines since her Mom died. Now that she's getting older, she feels the need for advice that her dad can't offer, so she takes to corresponding with a local advice columnist. To her dismay, her dad ends up marrying the advice columnist.
As Sofia is of a certain age her questions have been primarily puberty related. Now she finds herself suddenly with a slightly older but much wiser about such things step-sister. Both girls assume the worst about the other, especially when a positive pregnancy test shows up.
The novel reads like a modern day Are You There God, It's Me Margaret for today's tween. It has similar awkward family situations. It has frank talk about puberty, menstruation, sex, and reproduction jammed into a plot about step families.
Wilder Girls: 10/12/19
Wilder Girls by Rory Power is set at an all girls school on an island in Maine in the aftermath of a plague that has done horrible things to the students and staff. The survivors are disfigured by the Tox and the island remains quarantined by the CDC as the forest around them grows more wild and more dangerous.
The book has been blurbed a feminist take on Lord of the Flies but it doesn't read as that. Sure, it's on an island and it's isolated. Instead it reads like a YA zombie survival tale.
Wilder Girls spends much of it's opening setting the mood. The island is wild and didn't used to be. The Tox is painful and quick acting. The Tox is ultimately deadly. Rations are running low.
Being familiar with the man-made zombie outbreak tropes makes Wilder Girls easy to predict. There wasn't enough beyond the atmosphere of the island and the shady headmistress who would fit nicely into Promised Neverland to keep me reading.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a complex urban fantasy book with elements of time travel that uses the road narrative spectrum to build on similar themes to those present in her YA series, Wayward Children, but for an adult audience.
McGuire draws a wide range of fantasy and an understanding or familiarity of them will aide in the understanding and enjoyment of Middlegame. Some of these titles include: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1899),The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957), The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009), and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (2016).
For its aspects of time travel or temporal loops, if you will, it's a good companion read to All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017), Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking (2017), The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018), Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (2019), and This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (2019).
Imagine if you will that someone like Mary Shelley was an alchemist, capable of creating artificial life much like Victor Frankenstein. Imagine if this ability was also the key to harnessing the very fabric of the universe. To pass along the recipe for how to travel through time and space, she writes children's fantasy, describing the process metaphorically.
A hundred years after she creates her last being, that being is carrying on her work. He believes children are in fact the key to the universe, called The Doctrine. He's dividing up the inherent skills into different sets of manufactured twins who are then split apart to see if despite all the roadblocks placed in front of them, they are able to manifest their powers.
Roger and Dodger are two of these twins. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she in Palo Alto, California. He loves words and language. She lives for math. On a particular day when Roger can't get through his times table homework, he hears Dodger's voice in his head, telling him all the answers.
What unfolds in the next four hundred pages is what puts the book in the road narrative spectrum. Now while Roger and Dodger are artificially created, they are genetic siblings (even if they don't know that for most of the book). Throughout, though, they insist that they are siblings, even before they have confirmation. Thus I'm counting them as sibling travelers (CC).
While their stated goal is to reach the "Impossible City" via the "Improbable Road." That hints that the destination would be utopia (FF) and the road would be a magical Blue Highway (33). But this isn't the case, despite stated goals.
Instead, the destination is uhoria (CC). Part of manifesting power is the ability to reset time. On numerous occasions, the siblings lose at their goal of gaining freedom from the people who made them, and as they are dying, reset time to try again. We know this through short chapter breaks interspersed with the longer narrative.
Finally there is the route to uhoria — or more precisely, to understanding and remembering all the previous times they've reset time in order to survive. The route to manifesting as the Doctrine, and to freedom, is via both the tkaronto and the cornfield (FF). The tkaronto is in the show down at the edge of the San Francisco Bay, while the cornfield is a walk through a literal cornfield to find a hideout.
Thus Middlegame is the tale of sibling travelers going to uhoria via the cornfield (CCCCFF).
Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale: 10/10/19
Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart is another of the DC YA graphic novels. This one is an origin story for Catwoman. It includes depictions of child abuse, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, animal death, and homelessness.
Selina Kyle is in high school. She's grown up with a single mother who has a new boyfriend every week or so. But in the last couple years, she's had just one — an abusive monster. She's doing her best to stay out of his way, but he's a drunk with a hairpin trigger of a temper. His way of controlling Selina is to lock her in the coat closet.
Things come to a head for Selina when she befriends a stray kitten. She decides she can keep it safe at home (in her closet, ironically) while she's at high school. If you don't want to read about what happens to the kitten — skip a few pages.
The result, though, is Selina decides she has to leave home and she manifests her cat/moon powers. She takes on the name of Catwoman as her street name.
Selina's plight is played against that of Bruce Wayne, who attends the same high school. She believes that he is no longer her friend because they haven't talked in years. Now out of the blue, he's suddenly taking an interest in her and offering to help her. Anyone who know his backstory knows why he pushed away all his friends for so many years. He would be true to his word and give her a safe place to stay if she trusted him.
The remainder of the book is all about how she learns her urban cat burger skills and the team of teen outlaws she hooks up with. There's a heist and a side plot about a girl who is selectively mute and doesn't want to be touched who is desperate to find her brother.
The book includes an appendix of resources for readers who might be facing similar problems to Selina.
Wonton Terror: 10/09/19
Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien is the fourth of the Noodle Shop mysteries. Lana Lee has settled into her new roll as the restaurant manager. She and the restaurant have started participating in the Cleveland Night Market with a food cart. The Noodle Shop is ready to embrace the food truck craze.
On one particular night market, there's an explosion at the Wonton Wheels food truck. The woman who co-runs it is injured and her husband is killed. The police believe the woman (and possibly her son) are behind the explosion as insurance fraud or maybe some highly personal reason.
Lana's mom is good friends with the accused woman and is insistent that she couldn't be behind the murder. So Lana finds herself roped into investigating another case.
As it happens, Wonton Terror is the second food truck centered mystery I've read in recent weeks. The first one was A Brew to a Kill by Cleo Coyle (2013). While both were fun reads, I found Chien's mystery the more entertaining and straightforward.
The fifth book in the series is Egg Drop Dead and will be released February 25, 2020.
Level 13: 10/08/19
Level 13 by Gordon Korman is the sequel to Slacker (2016). The positive action group Cameron Boxer created as a way to be in a club without actually being in a club has taken on a life of its own. Now it's large enough to basically run itself, so he's hoping he can finally get back to his true passion — video games. Recently he's gotten into live streaming and hopes to reach the coveted 50,000 subscribers.
Meanwhile, Daphne, an over enthusiastic PAG member has noticed the local beaver celebrity isn't gaining back his weight now that winter is over. She's worried something is wrong with him. He, meanwhile, has gotten addicted to watching Cameron play video games in his basement.
Together, Cameron and Elvis, become the online sensation, GameFox229. Fox is supposed to be a reference to the Zorro mask Cameron wears to conceal his identity. But everyone seems to think it refers to Elvis, who clearly isn't a fox.
In the first book, PAG's focus was the saving of the freeway offramp to the town (as well as Elvis's woodland home). This time, the non-Elvis goal is the rebuilding of the public library as the current on is literally falling apart.
Cameron's near god-like status at school, his online fame, and the tenacity of other PAG members will make everything possible. But it'll be a fine line and a crazy schedule to juggle.
I don't know if a third book is planned, but I will definitely read it should there be one.
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph: 10/07/19
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert is set in Chicago during the summer time. Dove "Birdie" Randolph life will be turned upside down by the arrival of her mother's sister.
Birdie's family lives above the salon her mother runs. Her father is a sports doctor. Her older sister is a junior in college. Birdie, though, is feeling trapped by her parents' strict rules, especially now that she has a new boyfriend who has a juvie record for a fight with a coach.
The aunt is back from rehab and it's through her story that Birdie comes to understand why her parents are so strict with her. They don't want her getting into the same trouble.
Birdie's summer is one of pushing boundaries. Some of it goes well — she does get to spend time with her boyfriend and she takes responsibility to go on birth control. Some of it doesn't go as well — getting caught drinking and getting a warning from the police.
Birdie and Booker aren't the only couple. Her older sister has a girl friend, two of her guy friends are a couple, and her former boyfriend has realized he's probably ace.
But these are all the surface details. There's a bigger story. Birdie's actual revolution will be in how she knows herself and her family. That will come with some painful revelations by those closest to her.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 07): 10/07/19
Welcome to October. The days are noticeably shorter and for the most part, cooler. We've had to turn on our space heaters a few times. This year's foals are old enough now to be playing in the streets at dusk.
I also worked some more on "Anticipation." Maybe I'll finish it this week. I've already got my next canvas primed and ready to go. I will also be a firework piece, but an abstract one.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Coffee Book: 10/06/19
The Coffee Book by Gregory Dicum is a history of the drink, from its earliest days through industrialization and modern day consumption. At just over two hundred pages, it's a relative short history but some of that shortness is due to the small typeface and crowded layouts.
Looking at the text, it's relatively interesting. It begins with how coffee was first used and the race to cultivate it outside it's carefully controlled markets. There is a long section on the coffee plantations of old — vs the new giant ones. There are discussions of the two major types of coffee plant and the numerous ways of roasting coffee to give the different blends we find at our local coffee shops. The final section is about modern day coffee production and the big agro vs. the smaller sustainable farms and what both mean to the environment and world economy.
But it's the layout and book design where the reading experience falls apart. There is very little in the way of white space. There is a central column of text with a small type face. Each margin is cluttered with photographs and lengthy captions in an even smaller type face. If these side bars were given proper space in the body of the text, the book would probably be twice its length. Bring the type face up to a more comfortable reading size and the entire book would be more like six hundred pages.
Dead Voices: 10/05/19
It's winter break and Ollie, Coco, and Brian are now best friends. It also looks like Ollie's dad and Coco's mother have started dating. Now with free tickets to a new ski resort at Hemlock Mountain, the three friends and Ollie's dad and Coco's mom are driving through a blizzard for the scariest and most dangerous weekend they've ever faced.
The Hemlock Resort is built on the remains of an old orphanage, one with a dark past. As soon as the five approach it, Ollie and Coco both start having visions of ghosts. One sees girl who demands that they find her bones before she's caught. The other sees a frost bitten skier begging them to stop.
With the massive snow storm, none of the other guests have arrived. It's just the five of them and the owners. Until the next morning when a man arrives. He's not on the guest list but he claims to be a reporter for a paranormal newspaper.
Like the first book, Dead Voices sits on the road narrative spectrum. This second volume is a few steps closer to straight up fantasy as it relies on haunted house tropes, framed in a road narrative structure.
The traveler remains the same across the two books: the scarecrow and minotaur (99). The children, again serve as the scarecrow, or protector. This time the stakes are higher because they are protecting their sleeping parents who are cursed to sleep until their fates are determined. They are being pursued by ghost of the headmistress, known for killing a child. She is trapped by her actions in the now hotel and is therefore the minotaur.
The destination as it usually is for novels involving hauntings, is uhoria (CC). As with the Shining, some of the characters get to experience the events of the past directly. Others have to deal with the ghost. All three children, have to face taxidermic animals who move like topiaries in King's novel.
The route they take is through a maze (CC). The hotel at night can change. Extra rooms appear. Stairs disappear. Rooms stretch. Others shrink.
All together, Dead Voices is the tale of three scarecrows racing against a minotaur to escape uhoria via a maze (99CCCC).
While the set up seems very different from Small Spaces, the two are set in the same universe and the same rules apply. How those rules are interpreted are what make the children's experience all the more dangerous.
There are two more books planned for this series.
The Portal: 10/04/19
The Portal by Kathryn Lasky is the first of the Tangled in Time series. Rose who comes from a line of women named for the flower, though her's is the shortest at just Rose. She has recently been forced to move in with her grandmother after her mother's death in a car crash.
Rose's grandmother suffers from dementia and relies on a caretaker for help. She prefers to eat dinner in her elaborate greenhouse and is her most present when in there or when talking about gardening.
It doesn't take long for Rose to notice unusual things about the greenhouse. Time doesn't seem to work the same way in there. And then one day she ends up at Hatfield Palace and in the employ of Princess Elizabeth.
There are extended scenes of Rose's time in the past that conflict with her present day story of adjusting to her new life and her new school. I would have preferred to have a greater division between the two. If this series really is about finding her true history in the past, then the present day material is filler.
This book, does, however, fit into the road narrative spectrum. Rose believes she is a literal orphan. Her mother is dead and she doesn't know anything about her father. With her mother dead, she becomes an orphan traveler (FF).
The destination while literally a known place in England, the time difference, makes it a uhoric one (CC). Rose also learns that she isn't the first person to travel to this place, though the years in the past have crept forward just as they do in El ministerio del tiempo (2015-2017).
The route there, through a greenhouse, is an offroad one (66). As the novel progresses it becomes apparent that the greenhouse isn't necessary for time travel, that it is instead an inherent one. There is something about Rose (and a few others) that makes time travel possible, in the same way that some people can naturally step in the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
The next book in the series is The Burning Queen and it comes out on October 29th.
CatStronauts: Slapdash Science: 10/03/19
CatStronauts: Slapdash Science by Drew Brockington is the fifth in the series about the world's best astronauts. Except they're cats in a world of cats, so they're catstronauts.
This time the focus is on science experiments. It opens with a science fair of the ground control employees. The scientist whose project on Pluto doesn't win she's later given a consolation prize, a chance to be the boss while the actual one goes on vacation.
The vacation happens to coincide with the next space mission — this time to the space station. The main experiment is zero gravity gardening but lack of sleep and some other poor decisions lead to a big and possibly deadly mess.
It's a humorous look at leadership and responsibility and the consequences of cutting corners. There's also a brick joke that ends up saving the day.
I don't know if a sixth book is planned, but if there is, I definitely plan to read it.
Road Narrative Update for September 2019: 10/03/19
I covered 16 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 13 reviews and 3 books still needing to review. I'm taking a break right now from writing essays to focus on reading.
I still have 53 spots open in the road narrative spectrum where I still need to find an exemplar. I've found exemplars for 75% of the spectrum.
The Boney Hand: 10/02/19
The Boney Hand by Karen Kane is the second book in the Charlie & Frog middle grade mystery series. This time the mystery involves a school relic that is tied to the town's pirate history.
Charlie is continuing with his studies at the Castle School for the Deaf, being allowed in as an honorary Castle. His animal activist parents are living with Charlie's grandparents so that Charlie can continue to attend the school. Although they are trying to be better parents, they're still better and understanding the needs of rare animal species than the needs of their only son.
The school has an annual tradition celebrating the Boney Hand, the skeletal remains of John Bone, a founding father and known pirate. Where other pirates stole, he was well-known for borrowing things and returning them when he was done.
Legend has it that the other pirates ganged up on John Bone, killed him, and tossed his body into the Hudson River. It's said that after he had been eaten down to skeletal remains, his hand climbed up to the school and finger spelled: "No One Saw."
It's this event that the school celebrates every year and it's Charlie's first year participating in the presentation. Frog is also supposed to participate but she's sidelined after she gets into a fight with the school bully.
After the show while Charlie is on guard at the church, someone steals the hand. The bully starts a rumor that Charlie did it because he as a hearing student is and always will be an outsider. The other rumor going around is that Frog had Charlie steal it so that she would have a mystery to solve.
Like the first book, The Boney Hand uses the road narrative spectrum to frame the story and to unfold the investigation.
Because Charlie and Frog are under suspicion, and their movement around the school and town is limited, their status as travelers moves from couple to marginalized (66).
The destination this time is something bigger than home. Charlie has established Castle-on-Hudson as his home and his globetrotting parents have agreed to live there too when they aren't traveling. This time, the destination is related to the mystery, namely understanding the history of the Boney Hand legend and finding the missing relic. As this is a mystery steeped in history, the destination is uhoria (CC).
The route, though, remains the same as the first book — offroad. The school is still only accessible via the gondola and riding it, plus the other routes on the campus and in the town that Charlie and Frog take, are also independent of roads (66).
Put all together, The Boney Hand is the tale of a pair of marginalized investigators exploring uhoria via an offroad route as they try to solve their mystery.
September 2019 Sources: 10/02/19
September was back to normal with the teens back in school. Like August, I painted and read on a regular basis. I also didn't visit any libraries, continuing to focus on my TBR and my research.
I read sixteen TBR books books published this year and one published in September. This month's ROOB score is my best ever in the absence of any library books, even better than August's.
Nine months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. September 2019 was the best ROOB score since I started tracking these metrics. I am hopeful that October will beat it.
My average for September improved from -2.33 to -2.48.
Nevers by Sara Cassidy is set in Nevers, France a few years after the revolution. Odette and her mother arrive by cheese cart, escaping from another disastrous marriage. Both want a permanent home, but so far they haven't had any luck.
Anneline, Odette's mother has nearly the same luck with men that Penny does in the "Dead Man's Treasure" episode of Avengers (13 March 1968). She's had slightly better luck in that she's managed to get married a few times, and to have a child with her first husband.
Odette, though, is the adult of the relationship. She has learned something from each of her step-fathers, including how to read, and how to speak Latin. Her skills will come in handy in Nevers when she meets an unfortunate donkey who brays at night in what sounds like Latin.
If you've read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (1969), you will see where the plot of Nevers is going. The difference is that the characters are human, and the curse is manifested differently.
This Canadian novel also fits into the road narrative spectrum. The travelers are a mother and daughter — a family (33). Their destination is a permanent home (66), which they feel will be Nevers, for reasons neither can articulate when they first arrive. Their route to home is the Blue Highway (33). More precisely, it's the road the cheese wagon takes to bring them to Nevers. All together, Nevers is the story of a family taking the Blue Highway to a new home.
September 2019 Summary: 10/01/19
September was back to normal for the most part. One of my children was sick briefly and we had a construction project. Other than that I'm back to my usual routine. That means I have more time to focus on reading, when I do read.
Like the previous 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 still plan on returning to the library in January to fill out my reading.
I read more books in September, 30, up from the previous months' 26. I made my my diverse reading goal. In fact it was my best month in 2019. I also made my diverse reviewing goal.
October will we'll be having guests over and as the weather cools, I want to get back into my photographic walks. I might also have field trips to teach at work. That said, I think October will be another good month of reading.
I have no more books from 2016 to review. My 2017 reviews are down to 3 from 4. I'm down to 29 reviews from 31 for 2018, and 67 up from 66, now for 2019.