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December 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

Beat the Backlist 2020



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The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden: 12/31/19

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden by Heather Smith and Rachel Wada is a picture book inspired by an NPR report. In 2010 in Japan, Itaru Saski built a phone booth with a disconnected phone. It was his way of addressing his grief. His phone booth drew hundreds of mourners, all who wanted to send a message on the wind.

Heather Smith took this story and recontextualized it against the 2011 tsunami. Makio had a routine where he would have to his father and watch him and the others go out to sea to fish. On the day of the tsunami he loses his father and his voice.

Makio's neighbor, Mr. Hirota, builds a phone booth. The survivors use it as mourners in the real world have. Makio listens every day to the messages others send on the phone. He though can't take such a quiet way to grieve, until he can find his voice by confronting the ocean.

Rachel Wada uses a mixture of traditional Japanese illustration styles: namely caligraphy and sumi-e. She also references known Japanese children's books. I'm personally reminded of the illustration style in Crow Boy by Taro Yashima (1955) and Owl Lake by Keizaburo Tejima (1987).

Five stars

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Naomis Too: 12/30/19

Naomis Too

Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick is the sequel to Two Naomis. The Naomis are now sisters in a blended family. One is Black and one is white. They're going to a new school and having to field all sorts of rude questions and micro-aggressions.

This follow up didn't work for me. The back and forth points of view that flowed so naturally in the first book felt forced here.

Beyond the usual new school stuff, there were also all the annoying questions each girl was asked and the counseling sessions to make sure the family worked as a family despite the racial differences.

There was no down time. No time for the girls to just be themselves. The first book was fun while being thought provoking. This one wasn't. This one was a chore to read.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 30): 12/30/19

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

We had a lovely Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. It was just the four of us and our two cats. As my husband was on call, we couldn't go anywhere but that suited us just fine.

I've made progress on the sandhill cranes. I've worked four hours on it now.

Sandhill cranes in snow - wip

In 2020 I plan to draw a Copic marker sketch each and everyday. I'll be tagging them #art366. To get into the mood, I've been drawing every day since Christmas. Below are some of them.

Left: gingerbread man ornament. Right: A kitten napping on my friend's lap.

Two owl planters with jade plants.

A star shaped cookie with rainbow icing.

Sketch of shitake mushrooms

Sketch of Dungeness crabs at the market

I've also made progress on my koi painting. As it's small, only six by six inches, I should finish it the next time I work on it.

Koi painting

Fireworks

I also painted some more fireworks in the sketchbook. The book is due in February so I need to finish it in January.

I haven't worked on Pride Shoes this week.

What I read:

  • The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham
  • The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden by Heather Smith and Rachel Wada (Illustrations)
  • Verse and Vengeance by Amanda Flower
  • My Boyfriend Is a Monster: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Robin Mayhall and Kristen Cella (Illustrations)
  • Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
  • The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane by Carolyn Keene
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kelly Thompson and Veronica Fish

What I'm reading:

  • The Great Brain Robbery by P.G. Bell
  • Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead
  • The Big Shrink by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
  • The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala

Up Soon:

  • My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Vol. 1 by Sanzo
  • Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
  • Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator
  • Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Comments  (22)


The 5 Misfits: 12/29/19

The 5 Misfits

The 5 Misfits by Beatrice Alemagna is a picture book about a group of unusual individuals living together in the woods where they are out of the way of the more critical and "normal people." Along comes a visitor who of course criticizes everything they do or don't do or how they look. They end up for a little while feeling bad about themselves. But they come to their senses and kick the intruder out.

I read this picture book initially for the road narrative spectrum project. I thought these five could be a proxy siblings (CC), maybe a mixture of scarecrows and minotaurs (99), marginalized (66), or a family (33). They might but there is no sense of the road — the route. Also, the focus is more on how divergent this five are, rather than on how their lives change by the intrusion of a visitor off the road.

So these five misfits — they are poorly defined in terms of a greater world. Their narrative could have been presented as diversity as the norm in their house. It could have been a positive take on living with disabilities. But it isn't — that message is saved as the moral at the end.

Instead, their introduction is framed against normality. When Mr. Perfect arrives, he is the paragon for this world's normal.

At the same time, he's presented as extravagant. He's dressed in pink trousers, fluorescent hair. He's an abusive dandy. He spends his entire time at their home telling them how worthless they are.

Beyond the upbeat moral about being true to yourself and embracing your differences, the book does nothing to point out that Mr. Perfect wasn't invited, is abusive, is perhaps not a good example of what the rest of society is like.

Two stars

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All-American Muslim Girl: 12/28/19

All-American Muslim Girl

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney is about Allie Abraham, an all-American girl who wants to embrace her Muslim heritage even though her parents aren't practicing. They are of a mixed marriage. Her father is a Muslim immigrant who has done his best to assimilate. Her mother was Episcopalian but converted when they married.

Allie has spent her entire life smoothing things over for her parents. The most recent event, on an airplane after a terror attack by a white terrorists. Rumors were already circulating that it had been a Muslim man. Allie is able to calm everyone down including her father and the flight continues without issue. But it gets her thinking about all the micro-aggressions she faces in her day to day life.

The remainder of the book is about how Allie decides to learn more about being Muslim and how to get her parents on board. It's only after her teta dies that they decide to join their daughter.

Allie comes across with a genuine voice. Her struggle to find balance between the two halves of her heritage is well done. So is her struggle to be brave enough to publicly confront racism in the context as a Muslim, rather than as a perceived outsider.

But Allie's story is one of many like this. I suspect we're in the early days of novels with Muslim protagonists and the ones that are selling are the ones that educate while entertain. Hopefully in the second wave there will be more books where our Muslim hero can do things beyond educating the reader about Islam.

Three stars

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No Place Like Here: 12/27/19

No Place Like Here

No Place Like Here by Christina June opens with a high school aged girl being sent to her aunt and uncle's home after her father pleads guilty to tax evasion and her mother goes into rehab for self medicating her depression and anxiety. She's been found a job, against her will, at a summer retreat. She'll be working alongside her cousin, Hannah.

From the very first evening it's clear even to uninitiated Ashlyn that something is amiss with the camp. The sudden retirement of the long time camp manager gives the place a sense of a power void. The new manager doesn't honor the already agreed upon jobs. She also never seems to be present nor does the office seem to be at all organized.

Ashlyn, assigned to the office, quickly becomes aware of just how bad things are. With Hannah's previous experience the two know how things should be run. They begin to realize that the manager's carelessness has led to an injury and could easily lead to a death.

No Place Like Here with it's camp setting, it's sweets obsessed office manager, and the cousins bonding like siblings in the absence of their parents, is also a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. That clue, also informs the novel's placement on the road narrative spectrum.

The first question when identifying placement on the spectrum, is who is the traveler? As cousins, one could count them collectively as family (33). That would put the entire novel far down the spectrum into the realistic fiction, which it is. But that would place the two in a position of relative privilege without the expectation of action. Namely, they would do their assigned jobs but they wouldn't step up to save the camp.

If however, they are stand-ins for Hansel and Gretel, then we can by extension infer that their relationship as travelers is that of siblings (CC). They have nothing but each other. As such, they are also compelled by circumstance to go above and beyond their assignments.

Furthermore, The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018) uses the closeness of cousins and siblings to blur the lines. If cousins can be literal siblings, then so can they be metaphorical ones.

The next piece of the equation is the destination. Here the answer is obvious: the wildlands (99). The camp is a mountain retreat with a lake. It is the same wildlands that Hansel and Gretel. The wildlands is the crossover point from destinations magical/impossible to destinations grounded in the real, the understandable, the mundane.

For Ashlyn and Hannah, the camp should be mundane, but with the lack of leadership by the new office manager, it has become something potentially dangerous. The wildlands doesn't represent a direct personal threat here. Rather, the threat is to paying guests of the camp.

The last piece of the equation is the route taken. Here No Place Like Here departs ways with Hansel and Gretel. The cousins drive to the camp — or more precisely, are driven to the camp. As it's a remote camp but still a drivable route, the implication is that the route is a blue highway (33). That last detail, takes the Hansel and Gretel story and moves it from a fantasy setting into a realistic and contemporary one.

All together, No Place Like Here is about cousins who become as close as siblings during a trip to the wildlands via the Blue Highway, and manage to save the camp from a sweets obsessed, negligent office manager.

Four stars

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Attack of the Ninja Frogs: 12/26/19

Attack of the Ninja Frogs

Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon is the second of the Dragonbreath books. An exchange student from Japan, Suki Salamander, has arrived at Dragonbreath's school. With her arrival comes a new fascination with ninjas, especially ninja frogs. And it seems that real ninja frogs are after him!

There's more snark in this volume, now that Dragonbreath and his friend have been fully introduced as characters. Also, Suki is a delightful prototype of the strength and sarcasm of Harriet Hamsterbone.

The conceit of this series is that the solution to all problems can be found by riding the three o'clock bus. In this case, it means going back to feudal Japan.

Like Dragonbreath, Attack of the Ninja Frogs sits on the road narrative spectrum. As long as the bus continues to be the means of a solution, future books will also sit somewhere in the spectrum with a Blue Highway route.

Chart showing the first two Dragonbreath books on the road narrative spectrum.

Dragonbreath and his friends are still students with limited means, they continue to be marginalized travelers (66). This time the destination is uhoria (CC) as it's a time travel story. But the route remains the Blue Highway (33) because of the bus. Put all together, the second volume is about marginalized travels going to uhoria via the Blue Highway (66CC33).

The third volume is Curse of the Were-wiener (2010).

Four stars

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A Brew to a Kill: 12/25/19

A Brew to a Kill

A Brew to a Kill by Cleo Coyle is the eleventh in the Coffeehouse Mystery series. Like Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien (2019), the mystery focuses on the food truck industry.

Clare Cosi with the blessing of her ex-mother-in-law and boss has purchased a food truck for the Blend. Called the Coffee Muse, it's combining gourmet coffee, healthy snacks, and slam poetry. But Clare has a rival in the form of a bacon-crazed French themed food truck that offers caloric time bombs and an annoying sound track.

After an encounter with the rival food truck in front on the Village Blend, Clare's friend and consultant for the Coffee Muse is brutally struck by an unmarked white van in front of dozens of customers.

While Clare is trying to piece together what happened to her friend, Matteo has gotten mixed up with a gang of drug importers. His mistake might cost him and Clare their lives, and the coffeehouse.

To be honest, I found the drug side plot a bit too far fetched. But it's the key to the next step in Clare and Mike's relationship. I personally wish there were fewer scenes with Mateo.

Nonetheless, it was still an entertaining mystery to listen to. I listen while I'm painting or doing chores.

The next book in the series is Holiday Buzz (2012).

Five stars

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Girl on Film: 12/24/19

Girl on Film

Girl on Film by Cecil Castellucci is a graphic memoir about her love of films and her desire to be a filmmaker. The TL:DR version is that filmmaking didn't end up being her career; she's an author.

The book opens with Star Wars in 1977 and six year old Cecil is completely enamored with it. She decides right there to go to film school.

Although she can't go to the theater to see R rated Fame when it comes out in 1982, she does watch the TV show spinoff religiously. It's during this time that she makes her roadmap for getting into film school.

Her memoir then covers middle school, high school, her brief time at NYU, her time in Quebec, and finally her introduction to graphic novels. Frankly her time in Quebec is my favorite part because she shows the most growth as a person and as a creator.

Throughout all of this she name drops. She went to school with Cher's son. She met Andy Warhol. She was mentored by Mo Willems. Etc. etc. The name dropping gets tiresome after awhile.

But what really did me in were these long asides about the nature of memory. Backstory: her parents are scientists. Her father specializes in memory. I suppose while drafting this book she realized the flaws in her remembered timeline. She chose to add in her conversations with her dad about the failings of her memory.

The problem with these asides is they break the narrative flow. There's also a better, more engaging graphic novel on the subject of memory: Neurocomic by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella (2014)

Three stars

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All That I Can Fix: 12/23/19

All That I Can Fix

All That I Can Fix by Crystal Chan is about the long, slow recovery of a family after an attempted suicide. The blurb highlights instead a subplot involving animals escaped from a nearby zoo. They're there but in the background like the animals set free in Twelve Monkeys. They are an exotic menagerie of red herrings.

Instead we have Ronney who has taken upon himself to keep the house standing and the bills paid after his father's attempted suicide and now lingering, debilitative depression.

A friend of Ronney's wants to photograph the animals. Ronney agrees to go along when he can — when he's not trying to do the work of two parents while still being a teen. Meanwhile, the rest of the town is reacting as one can expect in a gun crazed society — shooting everything they can.

This is not a happy book. It's not a fun book to read. It has its place. It might be a relatable book for teens with parents who are living with depression or anxiety. I personally prefer the way Chicken Girl handled the same themes.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 23): 12/23/19

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

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. As we're a blended family we celebrate both. On the first night the kids got socks. They always do and they always need them.

First night

Bruce the Spruce is finally decorated. We use a potted tree as our Christmas tree. The rest of the year he lives in the back garden. We have two new ornaments for 2019.

A T-rex and penguin ornament

My daughter is in science club at school. They've grown plants from cuttings and seeds as a fundraiser. I'm now the proud owner of two jade plants, a cilantro pot, and a basil pot.

Jade plants in owl pots

Cilantro and basil

Pride shoes: wip
I'm five hours into my work on Pride Shoes.

Sandhill cranes in snow - wip

My client went through all my sketches and picked the second courting one I had done. The orignial sketch is on Instagram.

I haven't worked on the koi painting since last week.

What I read:

  • Girl on Film by Cecil Castellucci et al.
  • Once Upon a Grind by Cleo Coyle
  • The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
  • No Place Like Here by Christina June
  • Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LaFleur
  • Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger and Emily Woo Zeller
  • All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

What I'm reading:

  • The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham
  • Verse and Vengeance by Amanda Flower
  • The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane by Carolyn Keene
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kelly Thompson and Veronica Fish

Up Soon:

  • The Big Shrink by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
  • Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead
  • The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
  • My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Vol. 1 by Sanzo

Comments  (14)


Mildred Pierce: 12/22/19

Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain is a biting look at middle class life in Los Angeles in the early decades of the twentieth century. It opens with a man going through his morning routine and then getting into a huge row with his wife, Mildred. He ends up leaving her and their kids. She gets the house and a mortgage she can't pay unless she finds work.

The remainder of the book is how Mildred rebuilds a life for herself and her children and ends up making a small empire for herself. After a disheartening (and sadly still realistic despite more worker protections for older workers) search for work, she finds her first job in a diner. She harnesses what she knows about household budgets and planning to see how the place can be run more efficiently.

There's a side plot where one of Mildred's daughters ends up being a starlet and manages to make money hand over fist. Here's an interesting look at greed — both personal and parental. Hollywood parents are often terrible to their children and wasteful with their children's money (though again there are now safeguards in place to make this more difficult)

There's enough still relevant in this novel that it could be updated for a modern film, set in the real estate bust of the mid 2000s, if Mildred were working at a trendy coffee brand and her daughter were in reality TV (such as American Idol).

Three stars

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Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks: 12/21/19

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds is a collection of ten interconnecting short stories that together tell the story of a class given an assignment to imagine themselves as an object.

The book opens and closes with the image of a school bus falling from the sky. It's not until the last story that one can fully understand the context.

In the meantime there are ten stories framed on the walk home from school. Each story is named for the street or intersection where the action takes place.

Along the way Reynolds deconstructs tropes and stock characters, revealing reasons why they might act the way they do. The broader message is to stop and listen before dismissing someone based on assumptions.

Five stars

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Favorite graphic novels of 2019: 12/20/19

Mystery favorites

On Thursdays I feature sequential art books: comics, graphic novels, or manga. These are my favorite reads for this year. Many of them are backlist titles.

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

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All Summer Long by Hope Larson is about thirteen-year-old Bina who feels adrift when her best friend, Austin, leaves for soccer camp. He and she have a history of rating their summer fun by a long list of silly and somewhat arbitrary things. This year, though, she's by herself.

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Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco

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Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco is a collection of the Bird & Moon comics. They are climate change and STEAM comics and sometimes just off the wall observations about birds and nature.

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Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

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Brave by Svetlana Chmakova is the sequel to Awkward. This one is told from the point of view of Jensen. He's part of the art club but doesn't feel like he fits in as they go head to head with the science club. Meanwhile, Jenny and Akilah are putting together a study about bullying for the school paper and they want Jensen to participate.

Read more

Click by Kayla Miller

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Click by Kayla Miller is a middle grade graphic novel about cliques in school. Olive has her school friends and her after school friends. When her teacher announces the talent show she finds herself alone as all her friends team up to practice for the show.

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Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 3 by Ryoko Kui

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Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 3 by Ryoko Kui continues with the struggle to cross the water level. Characters who died in the volume 2 are revived long enough to show new ways of dying in the dungeon. Interestingly they are briefly ahead of the protagonists, suggesting that time and space might be more variable in the dungeon that anyone knows.

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Guts by Raina Telgemeier

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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.

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Frazzled: Minor Incidents and Absolute Uncertainties by Booki Vivat

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Frazzled: Minor Incidents and Absolute Uncertainties by Booki Vivat is the third in the Frazzled series. Once again I'm reminded at just how grounded this series is in San Diego as Abbie and her classmates go on a week long school trip to "outdoor school" which outside of the book is just known as "sixth grade camp."

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Misfit City Volume 1 by Kirsten Smith

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Misfit City Volume 1 by Kirsten Smith is the first of a two volumes that cover the hunt for treasure. The book is set in a fictional reimagining of Astoria, Oregon — the location where The Goonies was filmed. Cannon Cove has it's own cult movie from the 1980s, The Gloomies and a museum dedicated to it (with some actual local history thrown in).

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Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

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Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks is a graphic novel romance set on Halloween, on the last day Josiah and Deja will be selling succotash together before college. For the last three years Josiah has had a crush on the fudge girl but has never spoken to her. Deja's mission is to make that happen in these last few hours.

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Rust: Soul in the Machine by Royden Lepp

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Rust: Soul in the Machine by Royden Lepp is the conclusion to the Rust series. The giant war machines awakened at the conclusion of Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy have arrived at the farm where the Rocket Boy has been hiding out.

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Stargazing by Jen Wang

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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.

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Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo

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Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo is the start of a new series of graphic novels featuring a different member of the Teen Titans. The book opens with Raven and her foster mother discussing adoption. Before her foster mom can actually make it official, she's killed in a car accident.

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The End of Oz: 12/20/19

The End of Oz

The End of Oz by Danielle Paige is a literal title but not in the way one might expect. The novel is set (for the most part) in Ev, which does sit at one end of Oz on the other side of the deadly desert that surrounds Oz.

Amy and Madison, the bully from the first novel, end up recapitulating the first meeting of Dorothy and Ozma. Their adventure, though, is a means to save both Dorothy and Ozma and set the magic imbalance in Oz to rights.

The problem with introducing Ev as the endgame for the series is that Ev has always been the post-apocalyptic neighbor. The royal family is missing — trapped by the Nome King, minus the king who drowned himself. The kingdom lies in ruins, with only one of their many mechanical creations still functioning (Tik-Tok). Ozma of Oz is essentially the early 20th century version of Wall-E.

I suppose that Dorothy's vamp look in Paige's series also comes from Ozma of Oz, as the original edition shows a scarlet clad Ozma in red stilettos bursting through a green curtain, ready to seduce someone.

As with the previous books in this series, The End of Oz sits on the road narrative spectrum.

With Amy and Madison traveling together, we're presented with a scarecrow and minotaur pairing (99). Amy, who is there to save Oz, is the scarecrow.

chart showing the placement of all four books on the road narrative spectrum

The route they take to Ev mimics the Road to Oz, meaning that a well defined road is used is akin to a Blue Highway. (33).

The destination is uhoria (CC) because the journey undoes the damage done by Dorothy's decades long reign of terror. It is essentially a giant re-set switch and a return to where Oz was around the time that Ruth Plumly Thompson took over writing the Oz books. Dorothy's redemption is also laid out through some POV chapters.

Put all together, it's the journey of a scarecrow and minotaur to uhoria via a Blue Highway.

There are also two collections of short stories which I have on hand (as they are part of my husband's collection of books). At this time, I have no immediate plans to read them for this project.

Two stars

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Favorite mysteries of 2019: 12/19/19

Mystery favorites

On Wednesdays I feature a mystery. These are my favorite reads for this year. Many of them are backlist titles.

Booking the Crook by Laurie Cass

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Booking the Crook by Laurie Cass is the seventh book in the Bookmobile Cat mystery series. It's midwinter and the weather has been fierce. The Chilson library has a new director and a new library board chair. While Minnie is worried about the future of her bookmobile, she also has the misfortune of finding one of her regular patrons dead in her driveway.

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To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames (aka Daryl Wood Gerber)

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To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames is the fourth in the Cheese Shop mystery series. Charlotte is busy with catering her cousin's upcoming wedding as well as feeding the actors in her grandmother's production of Hamlet. She's created a blueberry brie ice cream for the wedding but everything is put on hold when a stranger ends up dead in the ice cream freezer.

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The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany

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The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany is the third of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries. It's set in West London, Massachusetts. That puts it in the middle of the fictional Cape Cod also mapped and populated by Joseph C. Lincoln's novels a hundred years ago.

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Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower

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Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower is the first of the Magical Bookshop Mysteries, set in a magical pocket space along the Niagara River. Violet has returned home expecting to find her grandmother near death after an urgent call.

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A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton (aka Donna Lea Simpson)

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The series is set in fictional Queensville, Michigan. There, is, however, a very real Queensville, Ontario. While the location is probably close to Detroit, from the proximity of the Ontario landmarks mentioned throughout, I picture the village being up near the top of the mitten near Sault St. Marie because of personal family history; it was the area where my Canadian relatives made the move back to the United States in the late 1880s.

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The Great Shelby Holmes and the Haunted Hound by Elizabeth Eulberg

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The Great Shelby Holmes and the Haunted Hound by Elizabeth Eulberg is inspired by the Hound of the Baskervilles. John Bryant, a friend of John Watson, invites him over to help with a problem.

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Kneaded to Death by Winnie Archer (aka Melissa Bourbon Ramirez)

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TKneaded to Death by Winnie Archer 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.

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Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien

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Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien is the third in the Noodle Shop Mystery series. Lana has settled into her role as manager of Ho-Lee while her mother deals with her mother coming for a visit from Taiwan. Meanwhile, the noodle shop is participating in an annual Asian restaurant competition, this time being hosted at the mall and run by Ian, the mall manager and owner.

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The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

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The Poisoned House by Michael Ford is set in Victorian London, primarily in an old house. Abi works as a servant for an ailing lord and his uptight housekeeper.

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Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert

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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.

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Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang

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Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang is the start of a new cozy mystery series, Castle Bookshop. It's set on an island in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. Shelby Cox has taken over the bookshop for her aunt as she is recovering from an injury. On her first full day she finds the castle's volunteer coordinator murdered in the island's grotto.

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You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook

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You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook is a YA retelling of Strangers on the Train. While Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel, this retelling is more a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation.

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Big Hero 6, Volume 1: 12/19/19

Big Hero 6, Volume 1

Shortly after Big Hero 6 hit the screens, a manga adaptation of the film was announced. That ended up being a two volume affair by Haruki Ueno.

Volume 1 covers the first half of the film, more or less. There is more emphasis put on the relationship between Hiro and Tadashi. It gives more insight into the heart-wrenching depression Hiro falls into when his brother is killed.

The artwork is of course different. But beyond the manga stylings, there are other differences. San Fransokyo and the university are reimagined.

With just enough changed about the city, the characters, and their motivations, I wish this series had been allowed to extend beyond the narrative range of the original film.

Four stars

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Favorite Canadian books of 2019: 12/18/19

Diverse favorites

As I have family in Canada, I've dedicated Tuesdays to reviewing Canadian books. These are by Canadian authors, though some of the narratives are set outside of Canada.

The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

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The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena is a YA set in Toronto. The novel alternates between the points of view of Susan, recently moved to Canada from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Malcolm has lived most of his life in Toronto and he's earned a bad reputation and has pretty much given up on school.

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Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

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Poppy aka Pops works for a chicken restaurant as their advertising mascot. She dresses up in a chicken suit for work every day. Her twin brother Cameron, aka Cam, has started work at a hair salon. She is struggling with self esteem after a photo of herself dressed as Rosie the Riveter was edited to include a hamburger and uploaded to a site that ridicules fat people. Cam, has recently come out as gay and is trying to find a balance between things he likes to do and things he's now expected to like.

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Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

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Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks is the graphic novelist's first prose only novel. It's set in a small town in Nova Scotia, a town with ties to a hot comic book franchise, recently adapted to a blockbuster movie.

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The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter

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The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter opens with a shipwreck. It opens with a girl calling to her mother and expecting to drown. This nightmare will play a significant role in the novel.

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Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross by Jeff Lemire

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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.

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Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George

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Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George is set during the winter hibernation. The Heartwood Hotel is the place to hibernate in style. The end of winter is celebrated with a huge feast and party.

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The Hollow under the Tree by Cary Fagan

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The Hollow under the Tree by Cary Fagan is set in Toronto in 1925. It begins with a poorly maintained circus train, a tight schedule, and the inevitable derailment.

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In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen

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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.

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It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad

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In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen is about a Guyanese teen trying to adjust to life in Canada. At school she's tired to McKenzie aka "Mac" asking inane questions and making even more inane assumptions about her life and culture. At home she's tired of being put in constant competition with her spoiled and all-to-perfect cousin Farrah.

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An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

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Most time travel books are set in contemporaneous times, either as the origin point — for traveling to the future or the past, or as the destination point, from either the past or the future. Lim, instead, sets a time range from 1978 to 1998, a span of twenty years, that is forty to twenty years in the past. This choice gives the entire novel a retro feeling, like reading a newly discovered time travel book from the 1950s or mid 1970s.

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Read and Buried by Eva Gates (aka Vicki Delany)

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Read and Buried by Eva Gates is the sixth book in the Lighthouse Library mystery series. In Something Read, Something Dead (2019) a huge crack in the foundation of the library was found. Read and Buried takes place during the last weeks of the repair work and the mayhem that ensues when a box is uncovered, containing a diary and a map of the area.

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A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong

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A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong is a middle grade fantasy set in a kingdom made up of clans. The ruling clan divides the matters of state between the two oldest siblings. The eldest becomes the monarch and the second eldest becomes the monster slayer.

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Before She Was Found: 12/18/19

Before She Was Found

Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf is a mystery set in a small town where three girls become obsessed with a local urban legend to disastrous results. Cora, Violet, and Jordyn were supposed to be having a sleepover but sometime after midnight Cora is found violently attacked and disfigured at the rail yard with Violet cowering nearby. Jordyn is nowhere to be found.

The mystery told through multiple points of view focuses on three main suspects, Violet, Jordyn, and the teacher who assigned the urban legend project. The set up and the chatroom evidence of a manifestation of Joseph, the immortal killer and taker of girls, give this novel a Twin Peaks vibe.

Except, none of the girls died and while Cora's injuries are horrible, none of them are life threatening. And that fact lessens the stakes. Before She Was Found is more like Twin Peaks Lite.

As the investigation continues and the adults in these girls' lives go out of their way to protect themselves and their families, I'm reminded of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. But again, there's no immediate sense of danger so the effect isn't as strong as it could or should be.

The mystery, though, is framed within the road narrative spectrum, with the arrival of Violet, her mother and brother, to this close knit town as the inciting incident. These tropes reframe an otherwise anemic mystery as a rural horror.

From the spectrum point of view, the protagonists cease being the the three girls, and is refocused on siblings as travelers (CC): Violet and her brother, and Cora and her sister. Understanding the interplay of sibling rivalries helps to unravel the truth.

As the title implies with the world "Before", the destination is uhoria (CC). Namely it's a desire to reset the town to before Violet and her family arrived, to a time before she reset the dynamics at school.

The route taken is the railroad (00). It's even part of the cover art. The rail yard is the point of the attack. It's the focus of everything. It's also the answer to everything.

On the road narrative spectrum, Before She Was Found is about siblings traveling to uhoria via the railroad.

Three stars

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Pumpkinheads: 12/17/19

Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks is a graphic novel romance set on Halloween, on the last day Josiah and Deja will be selling succotash together before college. For the last three years Josiah has had a crush on the fudge girl but has never spoken to her. Deja's mission is to make that happen in these last few hours.

Set in Omaha, Pumpkinheads has a delightful sense of authenticity. This pumpkin patch is both location specific and universal in its humor. Keeping everything contained in one place, shown with a map on the end papers, and happening in a fixed amount of time, makes for tight storytelling.

Josiah, clueless and enthusiastic as he is, is best boi. Deja is a great friend and just as over the top as he is. Thankfully the book gives us a chance to see the fudge girl in action and even better, Josiah is clued in enough to realize the horrible mistake he's made.

The illustrations are by the talented Faith Erin Hicks. She brings her brand of visual humor to Rowell's situational comedy.

This graphic novel also sits on the road narrative spectrum. Josiah and Deja are a couple (33), traveling together. At first as friends, but later as more. Their destination is uhoria (CC) — namely the reluctance to give up on three great years of seasonal work and a fear of the future. The route is through the cornfield (FF) (and maize maze) but not a spectrum maze because there is no sense of danger. All together Pumpkinheads is the tale of a couple traveling through uhoria via the cornfield in search of love.

The book ends on a hook involving working as Santa's elves. I hope that means a sequel.

Five stars

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Favorite diverse reads of 2019: 12/16/19

Diverse favorites

This list of favorite was drawn from all of the diverse books I read in 2019, including backlist ones. Rather than do a top ten, I'm sharing twelve, a favorite from each month of reading and reviewing.

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi

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Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi is a collection of seventeen short stories by contemporary Black authors featuring a delightful cross-section of life in America from a Black teen / young adult perspective. It is, hands down, the best short story anthology I've read in the last decade. Read more

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott

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The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott is the sequel to Dragons in a Bag. One of the dragons is still in New York and needs to be taken to its magical home before it gets too big. To do that, Kavita has to work with Jaxon, if they can find each other. Read more

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

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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. Read more

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

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Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams is YA contemporary fiction about a black girl struggling to love herself as her family struggles to stay together. The family has been put out four times. House number five seems too good to be true, in a well to do suburb of Detroit with a well funded school for Genesis to attend. Read more

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

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A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée is a contemporary middle grade coming of age novel about a Black girl in West Los Angeles. Shayla is twelve and has been in a trio of friends, the United Nations, but now in junior high school they seem to be drifting apart. Read more

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

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Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali is a YA romance set in Doha, Qatar. The A is Adam, a Canadian born resident returning home after dropping out of university. The Z is Zayneb, a high schooler sent early to her aunt's after being suspended from school because her social science teacher is a xenophobe with an agenda, one that the administration seems willing to overlook. Read more

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas draws from her experience as a teen rapper. Bri wants nothing more than to follow in her father's footsteps and be a rapper. Her mother would prefer she go to college like her brother. Her home life, though, is rocky and there's no guarantee that if she got into college she would be able to afford it. Read more

One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet

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One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet is a historical novel set in 1968 during a road trip from Harlem to Atlanta. Zelda Livingston, tired of being at home with her mother and new stepfather, agrees to let her two college chums drive her down to Atlanta even with her reservations. She's concerned about Veronica's cherry red sports car and how safe driving through the South will be like. Read more

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon is set on the HSS Matilda, a generational ship heading towards the Promised Land. The narrative is split between people: Aster, a midwife living in the lower levels — the enslaved levels. The other is Theo, a doctor who has ties to the current head of the ship and is privileged enough to live in the upper levels of the ship. Read more

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

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We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the start of a YA fantasy series set on an island dystopian island built on latinx culture. Medio is a corrupt nation running on the fears of institutionalized classism and xenophobia. Read more

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

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The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum is a YA science fiction romance. The set up reminds me of the anime short Voices of a Distant Star (ほしのこえ) (2002). This time, though, it's a female/female romance with a slow burn between narrator Ryann Bird, the orphan daughter of NASA scientists, and Alexandria, the daughter of a woman on a oneway trip into space for a private space company. Read more

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami and translated by Ted Goossen

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Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami and translated by Ted Goossen is a single volume containing the first two Rat novellas: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. I read these two in quick succession after having seen The Night is Short, Walk on Girl which has nothing to do directly with Murakami besides being surreal and Japanese. Read more

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Descendant of the Crane: 12/16/19

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He is a fantasy legal drama set in China inspired realm. Princess Hesina of Yan suddenly finds herself the queen after her father is murdered. In an effort to find the murderer, she employs a soothsayer, an outlawed profession. The vision she's sold puts her in the path of a lawyer who also happens to a prisoner.

There are parts of this novel that are high fantasy full of lofty world building and parts that seem more dystopian and finally parts that frankly remind me of Perry Mason. It sounds like a weird jumble, but it works.

In terms of the overall tone and complexity, Descendant of the Crane would be a good follow-up for anyone who has enjoyed Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger or the political machinations of We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia.

He's next novel is The Ones We're Meant to Find and is slated for 2021.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 16): 12/16/19

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

Last week was a good one. We had nearly a week of rain. I had time to work on art but also got out and about.

Canyon Middle School band
On Thursday my daughter and I watched a friend of ours perform in her school's holiday concert. She plays the flute.

Family at Moonraker
On Friday we had dinner with family at the Moonraker in Pacifica.

Great egret: wip
I finished the Great Egret painting.

Pride shoes: wip
I'm four hours into my work on Pride Shoes.

Black Necked Stilt: wip
I'm two hours into this Black Necked Stilt painting.

Koi: wip
I've just started a small koi painting.

But the really exciting news is that I've been commissioned to do a sandhill crane painting which is due at the end of January. So I've been doing some test sketches with my Copics.

Two sandhill crane sketches

Sandhill cranes courting

What I read:

  • Crust No One by Winnie Archer
  • Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
  • Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (Illustrator)
  • Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds and Alexander Nabaum
  • Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4 by Ryoko Kui
  • Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf
  • Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
  • Sandhill Cranes by Lynn M. Stone

What I'm reading:

  • Girl on Film by Cecil Castellucci et al.
  • Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LaFleur
  • No Place Like Here by Christina June
  • The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham

Up Soon:

  • All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
  • The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane by Carolyn Keene
  • The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
  • Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead

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The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate: 12/15/19

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham is the fifth in the series of picture books about a monster fighting princess who dresses remarkably like Zorro. This time Princess Magnolia is on a playdate with Princess Sneezewort.

Like so many heroes, trouble follows. While they are having fun, a monster is terrorizing people in the nearby public park. Both Princesses done their uniforms (in secret) and manage to fight the monster.

This particular monster takes after Princess Sneezewort and is very good at hiding in plain sight. It seems only the local pets can see him.

As always, the tension between being a hero, being a princess, and keeping the secret, a secret, is taken to further and further extremes. I am still hoping that Magnolia and Sneezewort can someday tell each other their secret identities. Surely they would both be better and more effective if they could share?

The sixth book is The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare.

Four stars

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Favorite book releases of 2019: 12/14/19

Reading report

As the year winds down it's time to make lists of the best things experienced. I do things a little differently by posting lists of favorites. I'll start off with a list of my favorite new releases regardless of genre or age.

Rather than do a top ten, I'm sharing twelve, a favorite from each month of reading and reviewing.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

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The Bride Test by Helen Hoang is the second in the Bride Quotient series. It's not exactly a sequel, but Stella and Michael do make appearances. Instead this is the tale of My and Khai. She works as a janitor in Vietnam — the only job a single mother with an American father can find — and he's a Bay Area CPA. My is recruited by Khai's mother who wants to find a bride for him and she believes My is the woman for the job.

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

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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.

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Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is a middle grade science fiction fantasy space opera romp that is infused with Korean lore. Min lives with her mother and her aunties on a frontier planet, Jinju. They are all fox spirits but per her mother's wishes, she doesn't use her shapeshifting abilities or her ability to Charm except when absolutely necessary. Now the family has gotten word that eldest son Jun has deserted his post a space cruiser.

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Fearless Mary by Tami Charles and Claire Almon

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Fearless Mary by Tami Charles and Claire Almon is a picture book biography of Mary Fields, a former slave who in her sixties, began a career mail carrier on the star route. The book is set in Cascade, Montana in 1895.

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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is primarily the story of Maud Baum consulting at MGM during the filming of The Wizard of Oz (1938). There are also extended flashbacks of her life with L. Frank Baum that serve to contextualize her opinions on the studio's adaptation of the film.

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The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee

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The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee is set in the summer of 1977 in Slater, Kansas. It's told from two points of view. There's Stella who lives in Slater, and there's Galliard who was born and raised in Red Sun, the nearby hippie commune.

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If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann

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If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann is an LGBTA YA romance set in a pair of small towns that brings to mind the set up of The Good Witch with the diversity problem fixed.

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My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

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My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva is set in Quezon City, Metro Manilla, Philippines. Sabrina or Sab for short sees a huge black swallowtail, which can be a portent of death. She's convinced she will die before her mother returns home from her business trip. She decides to use the butterfly as a sign that she needs to fix her family before it's too late.

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Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

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Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg is about a horrible secret that's revealed after Ally Smith tries to apply to college. The application process is a grueling process, but she doesn't expect to learn that she's not who she thinks she is. Nor does she expect her father to be arrested or a long dead mother to turn out alive and living in Florida.

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The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

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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.

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We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

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The audiobook of We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, performed by Dion Graham, was been part of my artist experience for the first half of this year. Every time I painted, I had it on in the background. As I listened to it in chunks over such a long period of time, my impressions of this speculative fiction, near future satire might seem disjointed.

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The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

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The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf begins with an author's note with a list of trigger warnings and a brief description of the historical context. Read it first. She warns of "graphic violence, death, racism, OCD, and anxiety triggers." And all those things are there. Much of it is real — in that it is experienced first hand by the protagonist, and some of it isn't. That which isn't is the product of her OCD and anxiety, which she has personified as a djinn.

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Past Perfect Life: 12/14/19

Past Perfect Life

Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg is about a horrible secret that's revealed after Ally Smith tries to apply to college. The application process is a grueling process, but she doesn't expect to learn that she's not who she thinks she is. Nor does she expect her father to be arrested or a long dead mother to turn out alive and living in Florida.

While there is a long burn for all of these revelations, beyond a short prolog, there's still the last two thirds, the aftermath of this revelation. The second half is the media storm and Ally struggling to gain control of her life. The final third is her brief sojourn to Florida, powerless to do anything else for the six remaining weeks that she's a minor.

The final third of the book falls into the road narrative spectrum, as does the backstory which is revealed through various dialogs between Ally and her father, and later between Ally and her mother. The bulk of the tension in this novel is from the interplay between the original trip and the one that Ally can't avoid.

For the backstory, the travelers are a family: a father and a daughter (33). Their destination is rural Wisconsin (33). The road they take is the interstate (00) as we know from the father's admission of missing his exit and then taking it as a sign to keep going. That initial event then is 333300 or a family traveling to a rural town via the interstate, where they can hide and start a new life.

Chart showing the relative spectrum placement of the three road narratives in this novel.

Ally, though, is facing a mandatory return to a life in Florida she doesn't remember to live with a mother she doesn't remember and her stepfather and stepsister. This journey is again taken by a family of travelers (33). The destination is home (66), even if it no longer feels like home for Ally. The route taken, though, is offroad, in that she and her mother fly (66).

The resolution, though, is one more adjustment to the road narrative spectrum, in that Ally returns to Wisconsin with her extended family, namely friends she considers closer to her than her Floridian biological family. (33). Her destination is once again rural Wisconsin (33). Her route there, though, offroad again, as she's flying (66).

Thus Past Perfect Life uses three different types of road narratives to build tension and drama. For the placement of the novel as a whole, on the spectrum I'm choosing the Florida reunion as it's the most upsetting piece to Ally's life and mental wellbeing.

Five stars

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The Penderwicks at Last: 12/13/19

The Penderwicks at Last

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall is the conclusion to the Penderwicks series. It's a return to Arundel, this time for a wedding.

Lydia is now 11 and mostly this book is her adventures in discovering the home and grounds that her eldest sisters so enjoyed in the first book. She has a friend in the form of the groundkeeper's daughter.

At this point in the series, all of the original sisters are adults. The original youngest, Batty, is in college. The others have their own lives but this is a family reunion for the wedding.

Of course Jeffrey's mother is back to be a nuisance and as clueless and stuck up as ever. Lydia, with no past history with her ends up becoming an ersatz friend and negotiator on behalf of the Penderwicks.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, this final book sits in the same place as Penderwicks at Point Mouette. The siblings (CC) is traveling again to a rural place (33) via the Blue Highway (33). It's not a family journey, as most of the adventures happen before the parents arrive for the wedding.

It's not uhoria, even though the location is Arundel, because now the place is a known place both to the siblings (minus the youngest ones) and to the reader. Also, this final volume is better at placing current items and pop culture to place the novel into a knowable timeline.

Five stars

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Hilda and the Mountain King: 12/12/19

Hilda and the Mountain King

Hilda and the Mountain King by Luke Pearson is the sixth of the Hildafolk series. Hilda wakes up naked inside the troll mountain city. When she tries to escape, she discovers she's been transformed into a troll! Meanwhile her mother has been given a troll changeling. Can the two reunite?

In previous volumes, more time is spent in setting up the situation but now with five previous volumes, and a Netflix series, Pearson choses to give a one page visual recap of relevant details before jumping in media res.

Hilda's situation ends up being secondary to a larger on-going conflict between the trolls and the humans. The trolls are being called to the city but can't enter because of the bells and the huge wall. The humans believe the trolls wish to destroy the city; the trolls swear they don't. The truth ends up being more complex than either side realizes.

An especially large troll, though, offers a solution to Hilda, one she takes without questioning his motive or his words. She knows that humans bell trolls to keep them under control. She doesn't stop to consider that trolls might also use that method or why they might.

Ultimately though, the central theme is the bond of mother and child. Even while the trolls swear there isn't that sort of bond, Hilda and her mother prove them wrong. They also manage to bring peace between the two factions through this revelation, although, the city is nearly destroyed in the process.

The artwork continues to be the bright, vibrant, primary color drawings that make this series so memorable. The trolls, though, are sometimes done in muted earth tones, to set them apart from Hilda's mother and the other humans. Emotional scenes, though, are done in saturated monotones: reds or blues.

Five stars

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The Professor and the Puzzle: 12/11/19

The Professor and the Puzzle

The Professor and the Puzzle by Carolyn Keene is the fifteenth in the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy and her friends are at the home of Oracle College's president for an annual costume party and fundraiser. During a speech, a brilliant student dressed as Icarus falls when the banister gives way.

Nancy usually has her friends' help but they are called back home the next day. Nancy who is childhood friends with the professor and his daughter, agrees to stay in the hope of discovering who sabotaged the banister.

At the heart of the matter is one of responsibility and promotion. The new department head for classics will be announced soon. It appears pretty quickly that the student who fell wasn't the intended victim.

Solving this one will involve understanding who will benefit most from crime. I figured it out early, but still had fun reading it.

The next book in the series is The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane (2018).

Five stars

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Read and Buried: 12/10/19

Read and Buried

Read and Buried by Eva Gates is the sixth book in the Lighthouse Library mystery series. In Something Read, Something Dead (2019) a huge crack in the foundation of the library was found. Read and Buried takes place during the last weeks of the repair work and the mayhem that ensues when a box is uncovered, containing a diary and a map of the area.

The library book club is primed to recognize a coded message because they're reading Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne which opens with the deciphering of a coded map. Everyone wants a piece of the map and a chance to decipher it. It also leads to the murder of historical society member.

Although the map and diary are central to the plot, Gates chose to not include either within the text. They are described in detail but not shown, leaving the complexity of them to the imagination.

Meanwhile, the clues to the murder are present for the observant reader. Everything is there to solve the case. There are also clues to understanding possible meanings to the coded message.

I found this one a fast paced read and more on track from the previous one which was sidetracked with wedding planning. I don't know if a seventh one is planned but I will read it if one is.

Five stars

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One Night in Georgia: 12/09/19

One Night in Georgia

One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet is a historical novel set in 1968 during a road trip from Harlem to Atlanta. Zelda Livingston, tired of being at home with her mother and new stepfather, agrees to let her two college chums drive her down to Atlanta even with her reservations. She's concerned about Veronica's cherry red sports car and how safe driving through the South will be like.

Veronica and Daphne (who with her light skins passes as white) tell her not to worry and promise to take the most direct route possible. They'll be there in a jiffy. That route would be eight year old I95, the longest interstate, which connects Florida to Maine.

If the promised route were taken, this book would be very different. As promised, the novel would have been a 660000 or marginalized travelers going to the city via the interstate. Because, though, Veronica and Daphne believe too wholeheartedly in the stories that desegregation has fixed everything, they stray from the path.

Early diversions while problematic don't put them in any actual danger. They manage to save a child's life and they see a town, once completely Black, now integrated, coming to terms with these changes. Later detours, though, lead them into a post-Green Book South where there are no safe guideposts for them. Nor are there smartphones or other ways to remotely check the safety or rest stops, restaurants, motels, etc.

The title, then, refers to their last stop, one that should have been safe, but one that was out of their control due to the sports car needing new hoses and a new water pump. The place is run by the boyfriend of another of their college chums. But the quiet girl they know at college is anything but at home. Her actions combined with those of a jealous boyfriend and two AWOL, racist, drunk privates, leads to a disastrous night.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, then, the travelers remain the same: marginalized (66). They are so because of the lingering, institutionalized racism they face on their journey. Even with a male chaperone, they are still unsafe, especially among those who will read Daphne as a white woman driving a car full of Black women and a Black man.

As they never make their stated destination by the end of the novel, the destination resets to their last stop, that one fateful night in rural Georgia (33). All the other events have culminated in a night of violence.

Finally the route taken, while it starts on an interstate, it ends on a Blue Highway (33). It is the Blue Highway, cut off from the interstate — the perfect place for racism and White on Black violence to fester unchecked.

Altogether, One Night in Georgia is the tale of four marginalized travelers detouring to rural Georgia via the Blue Highway.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 09): 12/09/19

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

Last week we had days of rain. In between the storms, I was able to venture out to Dry Creek Cottage to photograph the gardens and do some birdwatching. It's a lovely place on the border between Hayward and Union City.

Dry Creek Cottage
A view of Dry Creek Cottage gardens from one of the many benches hidden around the area.

Great egret: wip
I'm four hours into this piece of a Great Egret in flight. One more session and I should be done.

Pride shoes: wip
I'm in my second hour of this piece I'm calling Pride Shoes.

Fireworks: sketchbook
I've finished two pieces for the fireworks sketchbook I'm working on for the Brooklyn Art Library. The book is due in February.

What I read:

Reading was slow for me. I've been spending my time baking and running errands. I had to go to the blood pressure clinic; my blood pressure was low. I'm probably done with going to the clinic for now. Also there was the walk at Dry Creek Cottage which generated a hundred or so photographs which I worked on.

  • The Ghost in Apartment 2R by Denis Markell
  • Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
  • Read and Buried by Eva Gates
  • Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 2 by Ryo Maruya
  • Hilda and the Mountain King by Luke Pearson

What I'm reading:

  • Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
  • Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf
  • Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4 by Ryoko Kui

Up Soon:

  • All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
  • Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
  • Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds and Alexander Nabaum
  • Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LaFleur

Comments  (24)


White Rabbit: 12/08/19

White Rabbit

White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig is blurbed as a retelling of Catcher in the Rye with a gay protagonist. Rufus Holt is still trying to get over a messy break-up with Sebastian when out of the blue his ex reappears and says they need to talk. At the same time, his sister calls saying she needs help. Sebastian offers to drive Rufus and together they find her alone with the horribly murdered body of her boyfriend in a summer home where a huge party had been thrown the night before.

This set up if everyone was older by five or ten years would be fine. It would be believable. But this ridiculous book is marketed as YA. It's not the sex and it's not the drugs. It's the agency — the freedom these mid-teens have. Rufus and his sister are sixteen and fifteen but they have the freedom of adults.

These so called teens don't talk like teens. They don't act like teens. They talk and act like jaded late twenty-somethings playing at being teens. This stupid book reads like more like novelization of Twin Peaks (which had twenty-somethings playing teens) with a gay protagonist. There is literally nothing about this book, minus their ages, that makes this book YA.

One star

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The Ghost in Apartment 2R: 12/07/19

The Ghost in Apartment 2R

The Ghost in Apartment 2R by Denis Markell is set in Brooklyn during the fall. Danny's been promised his brother's room for years but now that he's at Cornell, his parents decide to rent it out to help offset the costs. That means he's still stuck sleeping in a converted walk in closet. As soon as they start to revamp the bedroom, weird things begin to happen and Danny soon begins to believe the room might be haunted.

Convincing everyone else though is no easy task. The ghost, if there is one, is subtle at first. The IKEA furniture falls apart. The door opens when it should be open. There's a knocking when no one is there. But then the first guests arrive and things get really weird. The ghost starts talking through them and she seems hellbent on haunting Danny.

So often when there's a ghost story set in New York, the answer to the problem is to bust it. You either do it with paranormal science, a la Ghostbusters or you exorcise it, a la The Sentinel by Jeffrey Krovitz (1974).

But here's the thing: New York is a diverse city and different cultures have different traditional beliefs about ghosts. Danny and his friends, Nat and Gus do the homework to figure out what kind of ghost is haunting the apartment and what it wants. Yes, they're scared of it, but they're also willing to do the work to figure out the best way of dealing with whomever is in Jake's room.

As part of the research project, Denis Markell includes a number of retellings of ghost stories. My personal favorite was from the Thousand and One Nights and tells of a man who was transformed into dog by his ghoul of a wife. (And that got me on a side tangent of rewatching The Shaggy Dog, although that film takes it's inspiration from The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten (1923)).

The novel also happens to fit on the road narrative spectrum in the same spot as The Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (2018). While Danny and Jake are separated by geography because Jake is at college and Danny is at home, they still do work together on the final solution. Therefore, I'm counting Jake and Danny as joint, sibling travelers (CC). The destination is uhoria (CC), or more specifically, uncovering the event that has now made the ghost restless to understand how to set her at ease. The route taken is the Blue Highway (33), meaning here the streets of New York as Danny and his friends do the legwork to understand and identify the ghost. All together this novel is about siblings who face uhoria via the Blue Highways (CCCC33).

Five stars

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Girl Made of Stars: 12/06/19

Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake is about fraternal twins and the aftermath of a rape accusation. Mara and Owen join their friends to party at the lake. That involves underage drinking and coupling. Afterwards, though, Owen's girlfriend claims he raped her. He swears it was consensual. Mara feels torn in half.

The entire drama that unfolds is one of a twin having grown up believing she can always trust her brother. She's also a feminist. People who say they were raped should be believed. But now there's a conundrum. She doesn't believe her brother is capable of raping but she doesn't want to call her friend a liar.

These types of novels are situation dramas just as there are situation comedies. It's a big, melodramatic what if. It felt more like a thought experiment than an actual believable narrative.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, it sits fairly high up, but isn't fantasy. The travelers are the twins (CC). The destination is a metaphoric one. Both want to go back to a time before the party at the lake. While uhoric journeys (CC) are usually literal, this time it isn't. Finally the route taken is along the country roads to and from the lake, which count as Blue Highway (33). All together it's the tale of sibling travelers trying to reach uhoria via the Blue Highway (CCCC33).

Two stars

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Hotel Dare: 12/05/19

Hotel Dare

Hotel Dare by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre is a young adult graphic novel about a family coming together to rescue long lost loved ones. Olive and her adopted siblings Darwin and Charlotte are sent to Mexico to spend the summer with their grandmother. For Charlotte it's her first time and she's as the most recent adoptee isn't feeling especially like part of the family. Her surliness helps get the story rolling.

Abuelita's hotel appears to be a run down building from the mid 1800s that has been added on in a willy-nilly fashion. Architecturally I was most reminded of the ever-expanding treehouse of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. The teens are given no explanation to the odd rooms nor the missing guests. They are just told to clean the rooms while Abuelita is out running errands.

There is just one rule: don't go into Abuelita's office. Of course a rule like that is an invitation to break it. Charlotte, the least inclined to follow the rules of a woman she refuses to acknowledge as family, breaks in. The other two follow and their curiosity leads to the opening of portals to alternate worlds.

Each of the teens finds a world while they are cleaning. Their adventures in those worlds begins the book's exploration of the road narrative spectrum.

The central question or theme of Hotel Dare is family — what makes a family? and what will a family do stay a family? As the narrative unfolds the three teens — as wells as abuelit come together as a family of travelers (33) with the goal to save another family member, and to keep worlds from colliding.

The destination is utopia (FF). Rather, they start out as three separate destinations but as things progress, the three blend into one even more impossible world.

As their ability to travel between worlds is tied to Aztec relics, I as tempted to say the route was through the cornfield. The artwork, and text, however, don't make any reference to corn or maize, nor is there a water and tree crossing that could count as a tkaronto.

The route they take, is therefore the next most extreme one, the maze (CC). The hotel itself is a maze of hastily added on rooms, with each room, presumably, leading to a different world. Then as the worlds begin to collapse, the ever changing landscape becomes the maze.

All together, the graphic novel is the tale of a family traveling to and through utopia via a maze.

While Hotel Dare stands alone, there are rooms left to explore in the hotel. Sure, the original reason for all those rooms is now moot, but I would read a second adventure should one be written.

Four stars

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Cat Got Your Crown: 12/04/19

Cat Got Your Crown

Cat Got Your Crown by Julie Chase is the fourth book in the Kitty Couture series. It opens on the heels of the third book, Cat Got Your Secrets (2017). Lacy Crocker is now part of the planning committee for the pet talent show that has come to New Orleans.

The host of the contest, though, is a loud, rude, handsy bastard. After hearing an argument between him and a participant, Lacy is literally right in front of his murder when his dead body lands on the buffet table.

Lacy wants to let the authorities work the case but someone is threatening her. Someone is sending her photos and notes and as time progresses, the threats escalate. It's a case where Lacy is too close to murderer to bring the details into focus.

After four books, the Kitty Couture series has become one of my recent mystery favorites. I don't know if more books are planned in the series. I hope there are and I will continue listening to the audiobooks or reading them as ebooks as they are released.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for November 2019: 12/03/19

Road Narrative Update for November 2019 2019

I covered 19 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 13 reviews and 6 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 November 2019. Click to see a larger version
Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in November. Click to see a larger version

  1. FFFFCC: BLAME! Master Edition 1 by Tsutomu Nihei, 弐瓶 勉, Melissa Tanaka (Translator)
  2. CCCCCC: The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff
  3. CC6666: The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
  4. CC6666: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  5. CC3366: Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
  6. 996666: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  7. 996600: Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
  8. 99FFFF: Gideon Falls, Volume 3: Stations of the Cross by Jeff Lemire
  9. 66FF66: The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott
  10. 66CCFF: The Deep by Rivers Solomon
  11. 669966: Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd
  12. 663333: One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet
  13. 33FFCC: Hotel Dare by Terry Blas
  14. 33CC66: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
  15. 3300FF: Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao
  16. 330000: I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
  17. 00FF99: It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
  18. 00CCFF: Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia
  19. 0000FF: The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I still have 50 spots open in the road narrative spectrum where I still need to find an exemplar. I've found exemplars for 77% of the spectrum.

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A Deadly Grind: 12/03/19

A Deadly Grind

A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton is the first in the Vintage Kitchen mystery series. Hamilton is a pseudonym of Canadian author Donna Lea Simpson.

The series is set in fictional Queensville, Michigan. There, is, however, a very real Queensville, Ontario. While the location is probably close to Detroit, from the proximity of the Ontario landmarks mentioned throughout, I picture the village being up near the top of the mitten near Sault St. Marie because of personal family history; it was the area where my Canadian relatives made the move back to the United States in the late 1880s.

Regardless, Queensville and the surrounding towns as described share a history with their Canadian counterparts with people regularly taking the ferry between the countries. The beauty of this situation is any Canadianisms that slip into the text or the dialog can be explained by this shared history. It also makes the series extra fun to read (or in my case, listen to, as I'm reading via the audiobooks narrated by Emily Woo Zeller)

The book opens with Jaymie Leighton and her sister going to an estate sale auction in the next town over. Jaymie is thrilled to see a Hoosier cabinet in excellent condition. When an argument breaks out during the bidding, she's able to win the cabinet.

In the wee hours of the morning the sisters are woken up by a horrible crashing and banging. They find some of their purchases smashed in the sunroom and a dead man in front of the Hoosier. Who the man is and what he was looking for takes the next third of the novel, leaving the remaining third to truly hunt the killer.

Although the book took its darn time to get going, the characters and the setting are engaging. I also kept listening because of the vintage cookware and the old recipes. I grew up around both and it's fun hook for me.

The second book is Bowled Over (2013).

Four stars

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Everything Inside: 12/02/19

Everything Inside

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat is a collection of short stories about life, death, and love. They're set in the United States, Haiti and points in between.

Death and tough decisions are the themes tying these stories together. In between is the cultural push and pull of being an immigrant. Similarly there is the balance of work and family and personal well being.

As it's a slim volume, Everything Inside can be read in a couple sittings or lingered over for a week if one story is read each day. It's also a book I plan to linger over the next time I read it.

Four stars

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Beat the Backlist 2020: 12/02/19

Beat the Backlist
Hosted by Austine of Novel Knight.

With the year wrapping up it's time to think about next year's reading goals. I am still actively reading and reviewing for 2019. I have finished my GoodReads goal of 300 and will set next year's goal once again at 300.

The Beat the Backlist goal, though, is focused on books published in previous years. My most basic goal for this challenge is to have half my reading be backlist. Numerically that would be a minimum of 150 books.

My focus, though, will be on the remaining books purchased in 2019 and 2018 that I've yet to read. While I won't limit myself to these books only, I'm posting my current list of TBR books and their release months for the last two years. I do have older books on hand I'd like to read but they are primarily in storage. Getting them out of storage, read, and weeded is another longer term goal.

For 2020, I plan to purchase fewer books. I know now from two years of doing this challenge how many new books I can easily read and review in a timely manner. I will do my best to keep my purchase numbers closer to that ceiling.

Below is my list of unread books from 2019 and 2018. I will cross them out as I read them. I will also add other books to the list as I read them, and will bold them.

TBR from 2019

  1. Black Hammer, Volume 4: Age of Doom Part Two by Jeff Lemire (December)
  2. The Pretenders by Rebecca Hanover (December)
  3. Color Outside the Lines by Sangu Mandanna (November)
  4. A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo (November)
  5. Coral by Sara Ella (November)
  6. Invisible Kingdom, Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson (November)
  7. The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong (Illustrator) (November)
  8. The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham (November)
  9. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

  10. Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (Illustrator) (October)
  11. The Burning Queen by Kathryn Lasky (October)
  12. Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn (October)
  13. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (October)
  14. The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis (October)
  15. The Great Brain Robbery by P.G. Bell (October)
  16. The House of Brides by Jane Cockram (October)
  17. Jackpot by Nic Stone (October)
  18. Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire (October)
  19. Roll with It by Jamie Sumner (October)
  20. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (October)

  21. The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams (September)
  22. Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (September)
  23. The Big Shrink by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins (September)
  24. How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters (September)
  25. It's a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories by Katherine Locke (September)
  26. More to the Story by Hena Khan (September)
  27. No Judgments by Meg Cabot (September)
  28. Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall (September)
  29. Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson (September)
  30. Well Met by Jen DeLuca (September)

  31. Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (August)
  32. Flour in the Attic by Winnie Archer (August)
  33. Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (August)
  34. I'm Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones, Gilly Segal (August)
  35. The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey (August)

  36. Blastaway by Melissa Landers (July)
  37. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (July)
  38. Heartwood Hotel: Home Again by Kallie George (July)
  39. The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess (July)
  40. Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher (July)
  41. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (July)
  42. The 117-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (July)
  43. School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (July)

  44. I'm Worried by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator) (June)
  45. In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow (June)
  46. Montauk by Nicola Harrison (June)
  47. Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim (June)
  48. Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (June)
  49. This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura (June)
  50. Those People by Louise Candlish (June)
  51. Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey (June)
  52. Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (June)
  53. X Marks The Spot - A Nonbinary Anthology by Theo Hendrie (June)

  54. Birds by the Shore: Observing the Natural Life of the Atlantic Coast by Jennifer Ackerman (May)
  55. Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno (May)
  56. Five Unicorn Flush by T.J. Berry (May)
  57. Malamander by Thomas Taylor (May)
  58. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay (May)
  59. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (May)
  60. These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling (May)

  61. All For One by Melissa de la Cruz (April)
  62. The Ash Family by Molly Dektar (April)
  63. Belly Up by Eva Darrows and Hillary Monahan (April)
  64. Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson (April)
  65. Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan (April)
  66. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak (April)
  67. Love & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford (April)
  68. The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott (April)
  69. Share Your Smile: Raina's Guide to Telling Your Own Story by Raina Telgemeier (April)
  70. Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner (April)
  71. The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (April)
  72. You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim (Illustrations) (April)

  73. The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick (March)

TBR from 2018

  1. My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life by Rachel Cohn (December)
  2. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (December)

  3. The Winterhouse Mysteries by Ben Guterson and Chloe Bristol (Illustrator) (December)

  4. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (November)

  5. Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (October)
  6. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (October)
  7. Home and Away by Candice Montgomery (October)
  8. In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart (October)
  9. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen (October)
  10. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (October)
  11. Lu by Jason Reynolds (October)
  12. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (October)

  13. Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes (September)
  14. The Walking Bread by Winnie Archer (September)

  15. Copyboy by Vince Vawter (August)
  16. The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (August)
  17. The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson (August)

  18. I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator) (June)

  19. Flowers and Foul Play by Amanda Flower (May)

  20. Shot in the Dark by Cleo Coyle (April)

  21. Claws for Concern by Miranda James (February)

Older books

  1. Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle (2017)
  2. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2017)
  3. Death by Eggnog by Alex Erickson (2017)
  4. Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson (2017)
  5. Death by Vanilla Latte by Alex Erickson (2017)
  6. Death by Tea by Alex Erickson (2017)
  7. Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James (2017)
  8. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack (2016)
  9. No Cats Allowed by Miranda James (2016)
  10. Dead to the Last Drop by Cleo Coyle (2015)
  11. My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Volume 1 by Sanzo (2015)
  12. White Colander Crime by Victoria Hamilton and Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator) (2015)
  13. No Mallets Intended by Victoria Hamilton and Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator) (2014)
  14. The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson (2013)
  15. Freezer I'll Shoot by Victoria Hamilton (2013)
  16. The Ripple Effect by Malorie Blackman (2013)
  17. Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead (2013)
  18. Spore by Alex Scarrow (2013)
  19. I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator) (2012)
  20. A Match Made in Heaven by Trina Robbins, Xian Nu Studio (Illustrator) and Yuko Ota (Illustrator) (2012)
  21. Curse of the Were-wiener by Ursula Vernon (2010)
  22. Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator (2007)
  23. The Fox Wish by Kimiko Aman, Komako Sakai (2003)
  24. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (1991)
  25. Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright (1944)
  26. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh (1934)
  27. The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten and Huntley Paterson (Translation) (1923)
  28. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923)

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November 2019 Sources: 12/02/19

October book sources

November 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, thus all my books were sourced from purchases both for pleasure and research reading. Over all reading numbers were lower than October due to Thanksgiving and illness.

ROOB Score for the last three years

I read nine TBR books books but none published in November. Thirteen books were for research. This month's ROOB score is not as low as October's but is my lowest (meaning best) November since tracking this metric.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Eleven months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. November 2019 was the second best ROOB score since I started tracking these metrics. I hope December continues this trend.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for November improved from -2.24 to -2.40.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 02): 12/02/19

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

We were busy with Thanksgiving preparations and three of us managed to get sick with either a light version of the flu or a nasty cold. We've all had our flu shots but we all ran fevers, needed extra sleep and were basically zombies for a few days.

Sunday, though, I finally got some painting in. I finished the Pulled Pork Sandwich piece, made progress on the Great Egret, and started a new painting, Pride Shoes.

Pulled pork sandwich
After four hours, complete. 6x6 inches, acrylic on stretched canvas.

Great egret: wip
I'm three hours into this piece of a Great Egret in flight. I have another hour or two at least before I will feel it's finished.

Pride shoes: wip
I'm in my first hour of this piece I'm calling Pride Shoes.

What I read:

  • Hotel Dare by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre (illustrations)
  • Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
  • One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Bowled Over by Victoria Hamilton (audiobook)

    What I'm reading:

    • The Ghost in Apartment 2R by Denis Markell
    • Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
    • Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
    • Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 2 by Ryo Maruya

    Up Soon:

    • Read and Buried by Eva Gates
    • Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4 by Ryoko Kui
    • Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
    • Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

    Comments  (24)


  • The Oddling Prince: 12/01/19

    The Oddling Prince

    The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer is set in ancient Scotland and should serve as a personal reminder that I never seem to like fantasies or historical fiction set here. The king of Calidon is on his deathbed, cursed by a ring that can't be removed. Just as things seem to be hopeless, a beautiful young man arrives on horseback and is able to magic the ring off.

    So the problem is solved by the end of the first chapter. There's no need for a quest for Aric nor does he have to face being king yet. The magical boy has done it all by himself, leaving another 250 or so pages. Sigh.

    Magical boy, whom Aric has the hots for (as does everyone else it seems) dashes Aric's hope by announcing that he is Albaric, his elvin half brother.

    So what remains of this slog of a book is Aric flipping between being completely smitten with Albaric to being completely jealous of him. His entire destiny is now in question with the king well and his half brother charming everyone including their father.

    Oh and there's an extended flashback to explain where Alberic came from. The tragic love that should not be between a mortal king and an immortal queen. Why the ring was needed to save the fae kingdom.

    There are literally no surprises in this dull slog of a fantasy, save for Alberic's initial appearance.

    Two stars

    Comments (0)


    November 2019 Summary: 12/01/19

    Reading report

    November was a busy month, taken up with painting, planning for Thanksgiving, and unfortunately illness. We're on the mend and Thanksgiving was fun. But my reading did suffer.

    I continued to read strictly from my personal collection — including books purchased for my road narrative spectrum project. Next month I will probably go back to using the library.

    I read fewer books in November, 21, down from the previous months' 31. 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.

    December we will be hosting guests again and with winter vacation, reading numbers will probably remain lower than previous months. I hope, though, it will be a better month than November.

    On the reviews front, I continued to mostly review diverse books. As I've worked through most of my backlog of reviews, the posted reviews closely mirror my monthly reading.

    I only have 2018 and 2019 read books to post on my blog. My reviews to post from 2018 is down to 27 from 29, and my 2019 books to review are up to 74 from 73.

    Comments  (0)


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