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October 2019

Rating System

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

Reading Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020

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Archimancy: 10/18/19


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.

Five stars

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The Okay Witch: 10/17/19

The Okay Witch

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.

Four stars

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Shelved Under Murder: 10/16/19

Shelved Under Murder

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.

Five stars

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Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass: 10/15/19

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

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.

Four stars

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Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus: 10/14/19

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

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.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 14): 10/14/19

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

I'm continuing with Inktober. Below are some of the ones I created last week.

Inktober 8 and 9
Left image: koi. Right image: Paint brushes on a painted surface.

Inktober 10 and 11
Left image: Pumpkin soup and grilled cheese. Right image: A fern in sunlight.

Inktober 12 and 13
Left image: Jellyfish. Right image: Three nectarines in a handmade bowl.

I made progress on my second fireworks painting. This one is an abstract and is called "City Lights."

Colored lines on a diagonal
"City Lights" WIP - 16x20 inches, acrylic on canvas.

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.

WIP of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich
WIP of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich — 6x6 inches, acrylic on canvas.

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.

Blond wig on a styling head and tripod in a bathtub.

What I read:

  • Nate Expectations by Tim Federle; personal collection
  • A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton; personal collection (audio)
  • Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling; personal collection
  • Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh (illustrations); personal collection
  • The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner; personal collection
  • It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad (Illustrations); personal collection
  • The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Archimancy by J.A. White; personal collection
  • Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman; personal collection
  • The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser; personal collection
  • Alice Isn't Dead by Joseph Fink; personal collection / research

Up Soon:

  • Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips; personal collection
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood; personal collection
  • The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee; personal collection

Comments  (24)

Speed of Life: 10/13/19

Speed of Life

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.

Two stars

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Wilder Girls: 10/12/19

Wilder Girls

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.

But the event has happened weeks before the opening chapter. It would be like reading Unfed by Kirsty McKay before reading Undead.

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.

Two stars

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Middlegame: 10/11/19


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).

Five stars

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Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale: 10/10/19

Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale

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.

Five stars

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Wonton Terror: 10/09/19

Wonton Terror

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.

Five stars

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Level 13: 10/08/19

Level 13

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.

Five stars

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The Revolution of Birdie Randolph: 10/07/19

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

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.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 07): 10/07/19

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

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.

Two foals in the street
Two of four foals who were playing in the street a few houses down from mine.

Sunset over East Ave
With the sun moving southwards and the shorter days, we're back in prime time for sunset photography.

Sunset over East Ave
October is also Inktober. While I'm not following the official prompt, I am trying to sketching something each day. These are three from last week. You can see the rest on my Instagram.

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.

Acrylic WIP of fireworks over the Columbia river.

What I read:

  • The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert; personal collection
  • Level 13 by Gordon Korman; personal collection
  • America for Beginners by Leah Franqui; personal collection
  • Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien; personal collection
  • Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart (illustrator); personal collection
  • Middlegame by Seanan McGuire; personal collection / research

What I'm reading:

  • Nate Expectations by Tim Federle; personal collection
  • Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling; personal collection
  • The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes; personal collection
  • A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman; personal collection
  • Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh (illustrations); personal collection
  • Alice Isn't Dead by Joseph Fink; personal collection / research
  • The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner; personal collection

Comments  (34)

The Coffee Book: 10/06/19

The Coffee Book

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.

Three stars

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Dead Voices: 10/05/19

Dead Voices

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden is the sequel to Small Spaces (2018). It reads like a middle grade mashup of The Shining (1977) and Kingdom Hospital (2004) but written for middle graders.

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.

The second book is two rows higher in the spectrum
Comparison of the two books on the scarecrow/minotaur traveler portion of the road narrative spectrum

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.

Five stars

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The Portal: 10/04/19

The Portal

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.

Three stars

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CatStronauts: Slapdash Science: 10/03/19

CatStronauts: Slapdash Science

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.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for September 2019: 10/03/19

Road Narrative Update for October 2019 2019

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.

Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in September 2019. Click to see a larger version
Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in September. Click to see a larger version

  1. FFFF00: The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell
  2. FFFF00: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  3. FFCC66: The Portal by Kathryn Lasky
  4. FF0066: My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
  5. 99CCCC: Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
  6. 9966FF: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
  7. 996666: Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas
  8. 996633: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser
  9. 66CCFF: When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
  10. 66CC66: The Boney Hand by Karen Kane
  11. 669933: Internment by Samira Ahmed
  12. 663333: The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker
  13. 33FF00: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  14. 33CC33: Gideon Falls, Volume 2: Original Sins by Jeff Lemire
  15. 339966: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
  16. 336633: My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

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.

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The Boney Hand: 10/02/19

The Boney Hand

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.

Five stars

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Nevers: 10/01/19


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.

Three stars

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September 2019 Summary: 10/01/19

Reading report

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.

Lik 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.

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