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November 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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Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross: 11/19/19

Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross

Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross by Jeff Lemire explores more into the inner workings of the Black Barn and its relationship to Gideon Falls. Our tour guide for this is Father Burke who is chasing after Norton Sinclair, the vicious killer associated with the barn.

In previous volumes we've had a parallel but intertwined plot, and then one implying a uhoric relationship between the two Gideon Falls we were first presented with. Now we see that it's more complicated than that, being there are more than two and that time doesn't play straight among all of them.

Chart showing the progression on the road narrative spectrum of the three volumes.

Analyzing the three volumes against the road narrative spectrum, we see that volume two, Original Sins was a misdirection implying a quick solution to an age old problem. Volume three redirects the series to a spot more fantastic and surreal than the original volume.

Hopefully avoiding spoilers, I will dive deeper into volume three's placement on the road narrative spectrum. In volume two, Father Burke and the man we had been led to believe is Norton Sinclair were both paired with a woman, giving both known to us Gideon Falls a couple traveling together to save their town.

Now, though, the two men are separated from their companions and their status returns to a pairing of scarecrow and minotaur (99) between Father Burke and Norton Sinclair. There's one caveat, though, our understanding of who Norton is has changed between volumes. That said, revelations about Father Burke's greater role in the multiverse history of Gideon Falls may imply a similar reality for the Norton Sinclair paradox.

The destination in volume three is a little trickier. Time and space are both in play. Gideon Falls is a multiverse unto itself, interconnected via manifestations of the Black Barn. Looking at the destination axis of the road narrative spectrum, and keeping in mind that the most extreme example in a given volume trumps other destinations, there is one clear choice: utopia. Granted each destination for Father Burke is called Gideon Falls, each one is different. For Father Burke, the route is unmapped and unknown, thus collectively, Gideon Falls, is a series of utopic destinations (FF).

Finally, there is the route taken. It is still through the Black Barn. The Barn remains a metaphor for the cornfield (FF). Now though, the barrier the cornfield is crossing is one of both time and space.

All together, Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross is the race of a scarecrow (Father Burke) and a minotaur (Norton Sinclair) through utopia via the cornfield (99FFFF).

Gideon Falls, Volume 4: The Pentoculus will be released on April 28, 2020.

Five stars

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Caterpillar Summer: 11/18/19

Caterpillar Summer

Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn is middle grade coming of age story set in the summer between Cat's fifth and sixth grade year. She and her brother "Chicken" have been looking forward to their trip to Atlanta where their mother will be teaching and they will be hanging out with friends who used to live in San Francisco but recently moved.

A missed couple of texts leaves them in Atlanta with nowhere to go. Their friends have had to fly to India for a family emergency. To keep them together with trustworthy supervision, Amanda decides to ask her parents to watch her daughter and son.

Besides teaching creative writing, Amanda is a children's book author and illustrator. She's known for a popular series of books, Caterpillar and Chicken, which are set in a fictionalized version of her home town, and feature cartoon character versions of her children.

Amanda hasn't talked to her parents since she got married and hasn't told her children anything about them but she's desperate. By itself the set up of two children being left with grandparents they've never met and never talked to, would be enough fodder for a compelling plot, but that's just the start.

Chicken is neural divergent. He might be autistic. He might be ADHD. He might be both. Whatever he's been diagnosed with isn't stated and the specifics are left to the reader's imagination. I suppose that is to make him more relatable to a wider audience but it comes with a caveat, and namely we're only given insight into his disability through how others see him and how we see him acting.

The entire narrative is from Cat's point of view. She's the older sister. She's been acting as Chicken's primary caregiver after school and now on this trip because Amanda is a single parent and works long hours to make ends meet. Cat is convinced that Chicken needs to be protected at all costs but she doesn't try to get into his head. She doesn't try to understand her brother. She just sees him as a challenge that needs to be controlled through routine and avoidance of new things.

To further drive home the point that Cat's been essentially parenting Chicken for most of his life, especially since their father died, there are excerpts from Amanda's picture books. They always end with Cat having to give up something she loves to make things better for Caterpillar. Sure it's a running gag between books but the lack of character growth for either one in the books is further evidence of how stuck the family is in their assumptions of how life with Chicken has to be.

What isn't mentioned anywhere in this book is how Chicken doesn't seem to be the only one in his family (immediate and extended) that appears to be neural divergent. Cat loves routine as much as he does, and it's not only because she wants to predict his behavior. Amanda is as prone to hyper-focus as her son is. Macon (the grandfather) has his special interests (ship building and sea turtles) just as Chicken does (sharks). Macon is socially awkward just like his grandson. But at no point in the book does Cat or anyone else make the connection that Chicken's diagnosis might have a genetic component to it.

Cat and Chicken's summer adventure falls into the road narrative spectrum. They are brother and sister — sibling — travelers (CC). Their destination is a rural island (33) town , the sort of place where everyone knows everyone and there is a definite year rounder vs tourist vibe. Their trip to Gingerbread Island begins with a long flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, an offroad journey (66). All together Caterpillar Summer is the tale of siblings going to a rural place via an offroad route.

Gillian McDunn's next middle grade novel is The Queen Bee and Me. It has a planned publication date of March 3, 2020.

Four stars

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A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings: 11/17/19

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings by Matt Sewell is a collection of illustrations with descriptions of the collective noun for the animal on the page.

Sewell's illustrations are lovely. They are simplified made of basic shapes and solid areas of colors. But they are still recognizably the animals that the text talks about.

But it's a short book and it's primarily focused on commonwealth animals. What I'd really like to see is Sewell to make this the first in a series. Later books could be more regionally focused: a Pacific Northwest, an American Prairies, Canada, China, Japan, etc.

Four stars

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Our Wayward Fate: 11/16/19

Our Wayward Fate

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao (2019) is set in Indiana in a very white, racist town where Ali Chu is the only Chinese student at her school. Then one day a new Chinese student shows up, Chase Yu. Sparks fly — some good and some bad.

At home things are already tense. Ali's parents don't get along. Her mother stays at home, rarely venturing out. Her father hasn't been the same since he failed to earn tenure.

Although Ali's mother has always insisted that she should only date Chinese boys, she doesn't approve of Chase. She is down right hostile to the though of Ali being in a relationship with him.

After learning of their relationship, Ali's mother suddenly starts pushing for her to take a trip to China. As far as Ali has known, her family is from Taiwan. But here she is being dragged out of school to travel to China.

Gloria Chao in the introduction explains she has chosen to leave the Mandarin spoken in the book untranslated. She does this to recreate the experience of many Chinese-American children who grow up knowing certain phrases but never fully learning the language or learning how to read it.

There are times in the book where Ali and Chase go on fascinating tangents on the literal vs. idiomatic meaning of certain phrases. These do get translated through the context of their conversations. I would love to see my daughter's reaction to this book as she has studied Mandarin for seven years and has picked up a few interesting idioms from her more entertaining teachers.

While the mid book trip to China might seem like the reason for this book's placement on the road narrative spectrum, it isn't. While the goal of the trip is match Ali with a better Chinese boy than Chase, it's a complete goose chase. Neither Ali nor her would be fiancé are interested in each other. Furthermore, he happens to be gay. But even if he weren't, there just isn't the chemistry there that Ali's mother swears she sees.

Instead, the book's placement on the spectrum comes from actions Ali and Chase take back home in Indiana. As Ali and her would be fiancé aren't a couple and aren't going to become one, only Ali and Chase qualify as a traveling couple (33).

Ali and Chase meet up in Chicago at the end of her abortive flight to China. It's there in the Windy City (00) that they confirm their status as a couple. It's also there that they make plans to confront their parents and set things right.

But their route to the city, to becoming a couple, is a metaphorical one, through the cornfield (FF). Throughout the book Ali ties her feelings of being trapped to living near cornfields. When Chase and she come to the decision on how to confront their parents they literally walk through a field to stand in the waters of Lake Michigan and they look back towards Chicago.

All together Our Wayward Fate is ultimately about a couple traveling to the city via the cornfield (with a detour to China).

Four stars

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I Wanna Be Where You Are: 11/15/19

I Wanna Be Where You Are

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest (2019) reads like a mashup of Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June (2018) and Pride by Ibi Zoboi.

Chloe Pierce has been taking ballet for most of her young life. She's at the point where it's time to think of her future. She has an opportunity to audition for a ballet conservatory associated with an all Black dance company. It is the literal dream school for her. But her mother doesn't want her living in New York.

The auditions are happening in a variety of cities during Spring Break. Miracle of miracles: Chloe's mother will be out of town on a cruise with her boyfriend. As she is risk adverse, her leaving for a cruise and trusting her daughter to stay with a friend and her mother is an unheard of boon.

Chloe has her own car. It should be simple. She drives down to Washington DC, does the audition and is home at the end of the day. That's the plan but before she can even put the key into the ignition the handsome boy from across the street asks her to do a favor — drive him and his dog to the train station in DC.

That's the set up for I Wanna Be Where You Are. What should have been a solo long drive and the start of an otherwise boring, home alone, spring break, quickly goes awry.

What could have been a story about an audition and its aftermath, ends up falling into the road narrative spectrum. Chloe and Eli have a history of almost being a couple. Now on the road, they are traveling as a couple (33). In fact, the road trip works to being a potential couple together after a long period where they had fallen out of being friends. The reason behind the fallout is explained through flashbacks.

The destination is the city (00) hosting the audition. For all the other places Chloe and Eli go, the most important destination is the audition. The destination is a way for Chloe to get over her fears and to assert some of her own will on her future.

The route taken is primarily the interstate (00). One of the big detours that extends the length of the journey in terms of time and miles happens on a major highway. In this regard, the road itself is more an agent of narrative change than it is in many road narratives.

All together I Wanna Be Where You Are is the tale of a couple going to the city to plan their futures via the interstate.

Five stars

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Giant Days, Volume 11: 11/14/19

Giant Days, Volume 11

Giant Days, Volume 11 by John Allison covers the first half of the last year at university. The first section is about Halloween. The second is about Christmas. The third is a trip to Australia.

Halloween is one last hurrah for former roommates Esther, Daisy, and Susan. It's a chance for Daisy to confront her ex, who is now dating a man. It's time for Esther come to terms with her feelings for Ed.

Christmas is Daisy vs. the cult, even after McGraw barely escapes the ring leader. What's one to do with a charismatic neighbor who keeps roping you into one shading adventure after another? The culmination is the literal worst Christmas village ever, complete with a melted Santa Claus.

Although the first two parts are hilarious, my favorite part is where Ed and his physical therapy girlfriend travel home to Australia. Ed is completely out of his comfort zone but with the help of a feisty Nan, manages to save the day.

The twelfth volume will be released February 11, 2020.

Five stars

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Kneaded to Death: 11/13/19

Kneaded to Death

Kneaded to Death by Winnie Archer (aka Melissa Bourbon Ramirez) is the first in the Bread Shop mysteries. Set in fictional Santa Linda, California — a seaside town very similar to real world Santa Cruz — it's the tale of a photographer who helps solve a murder associated with the Yeast of Eden bread shop where she has been taking baking lessons.

This Mexican bread shop, reminds me of the one described in Anna Meriano's middle grade fantasy series, Love Sugar Magic. Here, though, the magic of the bread and of baking is more spiritual, and so far, not paranormal.

Ivy Culpepper has recently returned to her childhood home because of the death of her mother. She's been told it was a tragic accident, a hit and run at the high school where she taught. It's her attempt to deal with lingering grief that draws her to Yeast of Eden the day that another student is found murdered outside after the class.

Through her friendship with the bread shop's owner, Ivy begins to investigate the death. It leads her to a historic street with a terrible neighbors who don't care for their own home but ruthlessly try to block all updates and improvements other homeowners want to make.

Are these terrible neighbors the murder? Or is there something else afoot on this otherwise quiet street?

This first offering was a quick, enjoyable read. The murder was easy enough to solve, but not so easy to make for a boring book.

The second book is Crust No One (2017).

Five stars

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Operatic: 11/12/19

Operatic

Operatic by Kyo Maclear and Bryon Eggenschwiler is a graphic novel that uses a middle school music class as a framing device to dive into the life and career of opera diva Maria Callas.

Charlie has to find her perfect song for an end of the year assignment. The music class is putting together an album of perfect songs: each song representing a student in the class.

During one particular class the teacher plays an aria by Maria Callas. Charlie instantly feels herself wrapped up in the perfect song. The remainder of the book is divided between her time in school and her research into Calla's life.

The illustrations by Bryon Eggenschwiler transcend the usual boxy panel format. They flow out of their confines. The colors create the mood and define the scenes and time periods.

There's also a side plot about an empty desk and a missing student. We learn through his blue themed scenes that he was bullied for his love songs and his effeminate appearance.

The three way plot of biography, finding the perfect song, and the empty desk mystery end up competing for the reader's attention. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. To fully appreciate the graphic novel on might need a re-read.

Four stars

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Butterfly Yellow: 11/11/19

Butterfly Yellow

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai is set during 1981 in Amarillo Texas. It's told from alternating points of view. Hằng is an eighteen year old refugee from Việt Nam on a quest to find her younger brother. Leroy is an eighteen year old wannabe cowboy who has a good ear for understanding Hằng's English and the desire to help her out.

The first thing that struck me about grounded Butterfly Yellow is in the era. The details are right for 1981. The arts and music are there. Leroy, for instance, is just discovering rap and hiphop after the recent release of Rapture by Blondie. He's trying to learn the lyrics for the older songs that have finally gained purchase on white radio stations. Hằng meanwhile has learned her English through Clint Eastwood films and National Geographic issues.

The second thing that sets Butterfly Yellow apart is the way Hằng's accent is rendered. Rather than write her accent as an English speaker would hear it, Thanhha Lai has rendered her English with Vietnamese phonemes. It takes a while to get used to but it ultimately provides the best insight into the music of Hằng's native language.

Much of the novel is centered on Hằng working for her brother's adoptive family, hoping she can spark memories of his childhood before being airlifted against his and his sister's will. There are glimpses of his old life — he's given his horse his old name and he can hum along with the songs Hằng sings.

Ultimately Butterfly Yellow is about Hằng and Leroy both need to readjust their initial goals to the reality of the situation. She won't be taking her brother home. Leroy won't be meeting his favorite rodeo star, nor is he cut out to be the sort of cowboy he's imagined himself as. All in all it's a delightful and realistic look at the post Việt Nam war era as seen through the eyes of two eighteen year olds trying to learn how the world works and their place in it.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 11): 11/11/19

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

The time I spent making Inktober drawings last month is now going to writing this month. I'm steadily working my way through Nanwowrimo. As of writing this post I'm at 23,000 words. As I plan to start writing once I'm done with this post the word count will be higher by the time you visit.

I did, however, manage to finish "Aerial" after six hours of work. My next bird painting will be of royal terns from a photo I took thirteen years ago at La Jolla Shores.

Abstract of a turkey vulture flying
"Aerial," an abstract acrylic painting of a turkey vulture over Castro Valley.

I'm making good progress on the daylily painting that started as my October 3 Inktober drawing. I hope to finish it next week.

Daylily
10x10 acrylic painting of a Japanese daylily.

What I read:

  • Giant Days, Volume 11 by John Allison
  • Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai
  • Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd
  • (Don't) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen
  • What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr
  • Cat Got Your Secrets by Julie Chase (audiobook)

What I'm reading:

  • I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
  • Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin (illustrator)
  • Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao
  • BLAME! Master Edition 1 by Tsutomu Nihei, 弐瓶 勉, Melissa Tanaka (Translator)

Up Soon:

  • The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott
  • It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
  • Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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Posted: 11/10/19

Posted

Posted by John David Anderson is set in a high school where cell phones are banned after a cheating incident blows up into a viral embarrassment. In a protest a new form of mass communication springs up a the school, Post It Notes left on the lockers of people.

Basically the book plays out the ups and downs of this alternate form of communication until it too gets out of control. These notes too become a conduit for bulling and shaming.

The narrator, a white middle class male, doesn't really ever get emotionally involved in note taking beyond reporting what happens and how it seems to be affecting others. He's only upset when he's implicated in some of the worst aspects of the note posting.

I have similar problems with Posted as I do with Restart by Gordon Korman. The difference here is it's not clear how much active participating in the worst of these bullying / rumor spreading incidents the protagonist has done. That said, he also doesn't do much to counter act the worst of it either. He takes the toxicity of his high school as normal kids being kids even when there are others insisting that there's nothing normal about it.

As with Ms. Bixby's Last Day (2016), the author sums everything up into a happy ending where everyone learns something from the horrible school year. It's trite but it will probably hit a chord with a core audience.

Three stars

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Over the Moon: 11/09/19

Over the Moon

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd is a middle grade fiction set in a mining town plagued by the Dust and economic depression. Twelve year old Mallie works as a maid in the next town over, trying to earn enough money to pay off her family's debt.

But Mallie's efforts aren't enough and can't be enough. The company that owns the mine is calling for an impossible amount of debt. Furthermore her employer doesn't pay her what she's owed, saying she's not up to the task. Mallie, as it happens was born with only one arm.

Hope comes to the mining town in the form of an advertisement looking for orphan boys who are willing to risk it all for untold riches. Mallie goes and despite the gendered ad, is allowed to participate.

Mallie and her brother, now forced to work in the mines, have been raised on the songs and tales of a time when there were still stars and there was still magic. Here knowledge of the folklore gives her what she needs to save her town and defeat the Dust.

Over the Moon would make a good thematic read-along for two other books: Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas (2019) and The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (2019).

The novel, like the Prineas and Lloyd-Jones books, Over the Moon sits on the road narrative spectrum.

Although the advertisement mentions orphans, none of the respondents are orphans. They are all children with families affected by the mines. Many of them even work in the mines. As they are all struck by circumstances, they are collectively marginalized travelers (66).

Their destination are the mountains beyond their valley. More broadly, their destination is the salvation of their families and their town — both which is promised through their dangerous nighttime missions to the mountains. In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the mountains would be the wildlands (99).

Finally there is the route taken. It's done via an offroad method. Specifically it's done through flight. Their mode of transportation is the first clue that the magic hasn't actually gone away, that instead it's being kept away. While payment for what they collect is the stated goal, Mallie and the others realize that they've been given the clues and tools to understand what's really going on as well the means to stop it.

All together Over the Moon is the tale of marginalized travelers going to the wildlands via an offroad route.

Five stars

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Steel Crow Saga: 11/08/19

Steel Crow Saga

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger is a complex, richly populated fantasy. It takes inspiration from anime and manga. The author has been upfront about his inspirations and at one point announced the publication of this book by calling it Fullmetal Pokemon. Although more recently he's revealed that it's actual working title was Splintered Souls (Twitter).

I'm going to be upfront and say as much as I loved this book, I know I missed things. I know other things went over my head. I know some day when I have more time to read in greater depth, I will linger over Steel Crow Saga. I will take down pages of quotes and do a close live reading of it on Tumblr. So for now, please accept my first impressions.

There are five main characters, though the blurb only tells you about four and to avoid spoilers, I will only talk about them. There is Tala: a soldier looking for revenge. There is Jimuro: a prince who has lost his empire to revolution and is fleeing for his life. There is Xiulan: a detective with a secret identity. There is Lee: a petty thief on the caper of her life.

Together these four are on a collision course road trip. And that puts this lengthy novel into the road narrative spectrum. This post will focus on the road narrative spectrum aspect of the novel. But this novel is far more complex and can be analyzed any number of ways.

The four characters I can talk about without too much risk of spoilers pair up in two symbolic sets of scarecrows and minotaurs (99). By this I mean that in each pair of travelers, there is one who sees themself as a protector, and there is one who feels trapped by circumstance. As this is a world in which a person can bind themselves to the spirit of a recently departed life, the scarecrow/minotaur relationship is also reiterated on a personal level.

The destination for these travelers was a more difficult one to pin down. After considering all of their physical destinations, I realized the ultimate goal is a metaphorical one. Each character in one form or another wants to or needs to go home (66). For Jimuro, home is also a physical destination, but for all of them, there's a nostalgic aspect to the destination. Every character has lost something and home is more wish than achievable destination, but it's what drives their actions.

The route they take is the interstate / railroad (00). There is a lengthy section in the middle of the novel that takes place on a train. This is also the section where Hiromu Arakawa's influence is most recognizable. Prince Jimuro pulls a move that is pure Edward Elric. When they aren't traveling by train, there are many scenes involving cars and well-paved roads. For this fantasy world, these roads serve as interstates.

All together, Steel Crow Saga is at one level the tail of scarecrow and minotaur travelers trying to find home via the railroad or interstate.

Five stars

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Guts: 11/07/19

Guts

Guts by Raina Telgemeier is the third in the Smile graphic novel memoir series. In Quebecois, the title is Courage and that's an important insight for the themes of the book.

On the one hand, Guts is a straight up account of a time in Raina's life when she was grossed out by illness, especially vomit and diarrhea. It begins the night after the family has eaten artichokes and wake up with the stomach flu.

Fear of going through that again manifests as anxiety and IBS. She's teased at school and ends up missing a bunch of days. Ultimately she ends up needing therapy.

That's where the courage connotation of guts comes in. Through therapy, Raina has to learn how to handle her anxiety. She has to conquer her fear of public speaking (something needed for her class that year and of course now as an author).

Five stars

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Leviathan Wakes: 11/06/19

Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey is the first of the Expanse series. It's technically science fiction but it uses elements of the police procedural and the detective noir genres.

The narrative is divided between alternating points of view. First there is Jim Holden, the XO of an ice mining ship that is destroyed by terrorists. The other is Detective Miller who is trying to track down the whereabouts of a missing heiress. Of course these two events end up being interconnected but how they are is part of the fun.

The mystery takes place on space ships and on space stations in the far reaches of the solar system. The world building is as complex and nuanced as Cowboy Bebop, with some of the three way politics feeling like the Mars First plot of Babylon 5.

But there is also a horror aspect to this science fiction. Imagine nanobots and zombies. What's really going on is somewhere at the intersection of The Thing and Generator Rex and The Fifth Element.

While all of this narrative takes place in space, it happens to sit in the road narrative spectrum. With the two protagonists, we're presented with the scarecrow and minotaur travelers (99). Miller and Holden take turns as protector and prisoner. If we look at the end state, the final destination, if you will, then Miller is the minotaur — trapped by circumstances beyond his control, and Holden is the scarecrow, the protector. The destination is home (66). Or rather, it's a desire to protect home, and to direct a newly created entity to a home that won't endanger humanity. Finally, the route is offroad (66). It's through space via a variety of space ships. All together it's a scarecrow and minotaur protecting their homes via and offroad route.

I know there is also a television series based on this book series. I haven't seen any of it, but I plan to.

The second book in the series is Caliban's War (2012).

Five stars

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The Testaments: 11/05/19

The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale (1981). I read the original back in 2005, before this site had settled on being a daily book blog. I haven't seen the television series so all my thoughts on the book will be contained to the current book and what I recall of the original.

It's fifteen years after the close of The Handmaid's Tale, but frankly sometimes it feels more like thirty-eight years (the time between publications). The narrative is broken up into three points of view: a woman who runs the school, a girl destined to be a wife, and a girl who lives outside of Gilead but was born there.

From the woman's point of view we get the story of the early days Gilead. We learn how she was a lawyer and how women's assets were frozen and they were rounded up. We see how she's able to make a shrewd bargain to keep her freedom (more or less) at the expense of the lives of other women and girls.

It's in her story that the most time dilation happens. She was there from the beginning and she was already middle aged. It's now fifteen years beyond the close of the first book but what's not answered is how much time elapsed between the start of Gilead and the end of The Handmaid's Tale.

At one extreme we have the raising of a statue to honor the woman. We have that statue standing long enough to gather moss and to be visibly aged. At the other hand, we have the tale of a girl taken from Gilead in its early years who is now found, living in Canada, aged fifteen. It would frankly have made more sense for her to have been thirty or so, but then she would have been too old to be of use or interest to Gilead.

Then there's the scope of Gilead. When I read the original it had been Americanized. In American English it read as if Gilead had risen from the ashes of the United States. The Testaments has been released in the United States with the original Canadian English intact, giving a very different picture of Gilead.

First and foremost, it's mentioned in relation to places both in the States and in Canada. Specifically Maine and Ontario are named as non-Gilead places. Gilead is also mentioned as being smaller in scope than it would like its citizens to believe and from specific rivers, as well as the French Catholic inspired apparel, the logical conclusion is that's located in the remains of northern Quebec (while the metropolitan area appears to still be Quebec).

Near the end of the book there's a flight that the two girls take on their way to freedom / to be reunited with their birth mother (presumably "Offred"). They end up in coastal area of the American south — or Gilead South. The existence of two disparate Gileads leads to questions, rather than the promised answers!

My final thoughts are this sequel spends too much of its time on the mechanics of Gilead, rather than on character development or actual plot. Despite all this work on world building, there are more unanswered questions at the close of the sequel than there were at the close of the original.

As it happens, The Testaments also fits into the road narrative spectrum. The last third of the book which contains the flight of the reunited sisters is done as a road trip, first by bus and then by boat and foot. They are sibling travelers (CC). Their destination is home (66) — the reunion with a mother they've only heard of and maybe have vague memories of. Their route is ultimately an offroad one (66), across the water, into the safety of Canada after a very roundabout route. Altogether, The Testaments is the tale of siblings traveling home via an offroad route (CC6666).

Three stars

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Little & Lion: 11/04/19

Little & Lion

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert is complex story that touches on a number of things — racism, homophobia, bi-erasure, mental health, classism, etc. It's told from the point of view of Suzette, a black Jewish teen who has recently returned to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England. SHe's come home to a stepbrother who just doesn't seem like himself, to friends who don't seem like themselves, to a neighborhood where she just doesn't seem to fit in.

As Suzette is settling into her "old" life and decided whether or not she wants to stay and go back to the public school she used to go, she begins to realize she has changed too. In school she fell in love with her roommate but now that she's home she's having feelings for both her old boyfriend, and her step-brother's girl friend.

But it's not just about Suzette aka Little trying to sort out her sexual orientation. She's dealing with expectations — for example, no one expecting her to be Jewish because she's Black. Or for Lionel to be her brother (step-brother) because he's White.

Ultimately the book settles on being about Suzette's relationship with her brother, and more importantly his struggles with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He has medication to take but he feels like the medicine doesn't let him be himself. Suzette, to some degree, agrees — but when she last saw him, he was undiagnosed and in the early stages. At that time he was able to function without medication. Now he can't, though if the medication he has is the right one for him, hasn't been decided. Rather than talking to their parents, Lionel decides to stop all together and forces Suzette into the uncomfortable position of keeping his secret while covering for him.

Suzette's growth through the book is her navigation of the private and public. What can she keep secret and what should she be public about? When can she keep quiet and when should she speak up? When does telling hurt someone and when does staying quiet hurt?

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 04): 11/04/19

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

Last Thursday was Halloween. My daughter went as Violet Evergarden. She paid for the costume with her own money and spent a month getting the wig ready.

My daughter dressed as Violet Evergarden

Last week was also the end of Inktober. I managed to draw something every day for the entire month.

Inktober 28 and 29
Left image: A bowl of ramen. Right image: A pair of glasses on a colorful background.

Inktober 30 and 31
Left image: A fried egg. Right image: A pumpkin

I was also busy with painting. I finished my cup of ice painting, which started as the Inktober 4 drawing. I started a new abstract which I'm calling "Aerial." On Sunday I started a painting of a Japanese daylily, which was originally my Inktober 3 drawing.

A cup of ice
6x6 acrylic painting of a cup of ice and a spoon.

Abstract WIP
"Aerial," an abstract acrylic painting of a turkey vulture over Castro Valley. I've worked four hours on it so far.

Daylily
10x10 acrylic painting of a Japanese daylily.

What I read:

  • A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig; personal collection
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier; personal collection
  • Operatic by Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler (Illustrations); personal collection
  • The Silence of the Library by Miranda James; personal collection (audio)
  • Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger; personal collection; research
  • The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai; personal collection
  • (Don't) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen; personal collection
  • What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr; personal collection
  • Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin (illustrator); personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd; personal collection/research
  • BLAME! Master Edition 1 by Tsutomu Nihei, 弐瓶 勉, Melissa Tanaka (Translator); personal collection
  • Giant Days, Volume 11 by John Allison; personal collection
  • It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor; personal collection/research

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Road Narrative Update for October 2019: 11/03/19

Road Narrative Update for October 2019 2019

I covered 15 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 10 reviews and 5 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 October 2019. Click to see a larger version
Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in October. Click to see a larger version

  1. FFCC66: The Portal by Kathryn Lasky
  2. FF9966: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
  3. CCCCFF: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
  4. CC6666: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  5. 99CCCC: Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
  6. 996666: The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner
  7. 996600: Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
  8. 990000: Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman
  9. 66CCCC: Archimancy by J.A. White
  10. 66CC66: The Boney Hand by Karen Kane
  11. 660000: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee
  12. 33FF00: The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes
  13. 336633: Nevers by Sara Cassidy
  14. 336600: Alice isn't Dead by Joseph Fink
  15. 000000: Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

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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Have You Seen a Giraffe Hat?: 11/03/19

Have You Seen a Giraffe Hat?

Have You Seen a Giraffe Hat? by Irma Joyce is a picture book from my childhood that I stumbled upon while packing the bits and bobs of my bedroom as part of a move we undertook this past summer.

The book is actually older than I am and my grandmother, or some other relative, bought it at a discount when I was an infant. I'm guessing, though, that it was my grandmother for two reasons: she bought most of my books back then and giraffes were her favorite animal.

Like many children's books, this one is a repeating one, where the main character, in this case a giraffe, asks all the other characters one at a time, for help in finding a lost item. In this case, it's his hat.

In terms of story it's very similar to Have You Seen My Cat by Eric Carle. The difference, though, is that none of giraffe's friends have seen his hat and don't come up with a different but wrong hat. Thus there's no "this is not my hat!" component to the story.

In the end, though, the hat is found and it's been repurposed. Here is where giraffe steps up. He could get his back immediately but he choses to let the animal currently use it, finish using it. In return for his kindness and patience and basic decency, he gets a new green feather to put in his hat band.

Five stars

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A Kingdom for a Stage: 11/02/19

A Kingdom for a Stage

A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig is the sequel to For a Muse of Fire (2018). Jetta is now a prisoner, forced to work for Theodora. Though she knows not to trust him, she finds herself forced to work with Le Trépas, the necromancer.

Jetta and her family are again fleeing, but this time in the company of Theodora, Le Trépas and others. In desperate times she's called upon to use her powers in extraordinary and questionable ways. She can power the remains of a ship, make planes fly like birds, and raise the dead.

Like the first book, A Kingdom for a Stage is fleshed out with the ephemera of the world. It has more sheet music, which I'm tempted to try on my keyboard. It has more correspondence. More of the play. All of this helps to broaden the scope of the world.

In terms of theme and general atmosphere, Hellig's series is a good companion piece to Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger (2019). Both have characters who can work with the spirits of the dead. Both are set in worlds the draw on the history and culture of various Asian countries. Both have young would be regents in the fight for their lives while the nations around them suffer under civil unrest and/or occupation.

Five stars

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October 2019 Sources: 11/02/19

October book sources

October was another "normal" schedule for me. I divided my time between painting/drawing/photography, reading/blogging, and family/chores/errands. I didn't visit the library (except to drop off some old medication), thus all my books were sourced from purchases both for pleasure and research reading.

ROOB Score for the last three years

I read twenty TBR books books published this year and one published in October. Ten books were for research. This month's ROOB score is my best ever in the absence of any library books, even better than September's.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Ten months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. October 2019 was the best ROOB score since I started tracking these metrics. I am hopeful that November will beat it.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for October improved from -1.79 to -2.01.

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The Bone Houses: 11/01/19

The Bone Houses

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones reads like a decades later sequel to The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander but re-contextualized within a recognizable and knowable Welsh landscape. Rather than use the Afro-Caribbean term zombie, Lloyd-Jones uses a descriptive English compound noun: bone house to describe the corpses who rise from their graves and wander out from the forest near the abandoned mine.

Aderyn "Ryn" is a gravedigger, trying to keep the bone houses out of her town and the tax collector from foreclosing on her home now that her parents are dead and her uncle is missing. One night while patrolling the forest she meets a disabled mapmaker, Ellis. He offers to hire her to take him into the forest so he can draw a proper map.

Turns out they both have business in the forest. She wants to destroy the cauldron that is animating the bone houses. He wants to find evidence of his parents. The narration alternates between both their points of view to build a compelling historical horror/fantasy.

The novel also sits on the road narrative spectrum. Although there is a slow burn, the two travelers do become a couple by the end (33). As their goal is stop a decades old curse and to discover the identity of unknown parents, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route through the forest, through a cave, and across a haunted lake, is an offroad one (66). All together Bone Houses is the tale of a couple traveling to uhoria via an offroad route.

Five stars

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October 2019 Summary: 11/01/19

Reading report

October was another normal month in terms of routine and reading. I divided my time evenly between chores/errands, making art, and reading/blogging.

Like the previous month, I read entirely from my personal collection — including ones read for research. This month I will continue to avoid the library. I still plan on returning to the library in January to fill out my reading.

I read more books in October, 31, up from the previous months' 30. I made my my diverse reading goal. In fact it was my best month in 2019, beating last month's record. 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 November will be another good month of reading.

I have one more book from 2017 to review. My reviews to post from 2018 remains steady at 29, and my 2019 books to review are up to 73 from 67.

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