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The Winterhouse Mysteries: 01/17/20
The Winterhouse Mysteries by Ben Guterson and Chloe Bristol is the conclusion of the Winterhouse series. Elizabeth has settled into a happy routine at her new home. She's excited to hear Freddy will be here for Easter, as will the two men who have been working on the puzzle.
But her powers are acting up and some of the guests are acting strange too. Elizabeth suspects Gracella Winters is trying one last time to come back from the dead. There is one last item that can grant that wish. Elizabeth and Freddy want to find that item and stop Gracella from using it.
Like the previous books, the clues are hidden in riddles and other forms of wordplay. They are all puzzles that a middle grade puzzle lover can solve. This particular volume has some extra special ones in the form of old school stereograms. They can be done with just typed words and that's how they are done here.
The observant puzzle lover will be able to solve the riddles before Elizabeth and Freddy. If they don't, the plot is still fun. They solve them in story in an organic and satisfying way.
Like the previous two books, The Winterhouse Mysteries sits on the road narrative spectrum. The first book was at the fantasy end, being about an orphan going to utopia via the interstate and railroad. With the kinship between Norbridge and Elizabeth established, the second book sits nearly at the realistic end of the spectrum: a family fighting for their home in the maze.
This last volume settles the series closer to the horror end, without actually being horror. Like The Secrets of Winterhouse, the travelers family: namely Norbridge, Elizabeth and the other members who are at Winterhouse. This time, however, Elizabeth and Norbridge come to realize that there is strength in family and strength in reconciliation.
The destination this time isn't home. Winterhouse as home has already been firmly established. Elizabeth is accustomed to living there and is happy. Now the destination is uhoria ( — understanding the past to procure a better future. If Elizabeth and the others can learn the lessons of Winterhouse's history, they can guarantee a future for the hotel.
The route is like the second book's, but with less danger. Rather than being a maze built out of confusing clues, boarded up passageways, and misdirection, it's a labyrinth (99). The worst aspects of Winterhouse have been secured and neutralized. What's left is a transformative path, one where Elizabeth, her friends and family, and the hotel regulars can all grow as people. Put together, the final Winterhouse book is about a family traveling through uhoria via the labyrinth (33CC99).
Although this is the conclusion to Winterhouse, Ben Guterson has mentioned that he has other books in the works. The first of them will be The Vista Point Einsteins (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2021). The second announced is The Hidden Workshop of Javier Preston (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2022).
Queen of the Sea: 01/16/20
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis is a graphic novel that draws inspiration from the Tudors. Call it an alternate England. It's narrated by Margaret, a foundling on a small British isle that ends up being part of a royal coup.
Margaret has been raised by the nuns who live on the island. She expects to become one when she is of age. Those plans evolve first with the arrival of a noblewoman and her son, and again with the arrival of Queen Eleanor, forced to flee by her half sister, Catherine.
Although this is a graphic novel and full of interesting and amusing asides, it's also a long and complex story. I can normally read a graphic novel in a single sitting. This one took three evenings.
Without giving anything away, the novel ends with enough of a hook to suggest a second book in the works. I personally would love to read the further adventures of Margaret and Eleanor.
Bound for Murder: 01/15/20
Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert is the fourth of the Blue Ridge Library mysteries. Sunny's grandparents are having work done at their farm. The backhoe digs up a skeleton — the remains of a man who went missing in the 1960s when the farm was a hippie commune.
Amy Webber as the library director, and Sunny's boss, helps her research the missing man. As with the previous books in the series, investigating the past stirs up trouble in the present. To make matters worse, an out of town reporter has started dogging Amy and Sunny.
There is a lot of information especially in Amy's research. If you're good at logic puzzles you'll be able to figure out who committed the murder and who is trying to keep the truth hidden.
In previous volumes the modern and historic mysteries were well balanced. In this one, the modern day mysteries were separated from the plot by time and geography — suspicious deaths of people on a list of former commune residents. They are already dead by the time Amy starts investigating. Their deaths aren't local. Frankly, it's one of those things where the murderer could have laid low and neither case would have been solved.
Black Hammer, Volume 4: Age of Doom Part Two: 01/14/20
Black Hammer, Volume 4: Age of Doom Part Two by Jeff Lemire is the conclusion of the series. Seen in its entirety, Black Hammer uses a cinematic narrative structure where the ending is an altered/re-contextualized but recognizable version of the opening.
When examined in terms of the road narrative spectrum, we see the transformation more clearly defined. The first two volumes are from the spectrum's point of view, stable. Both volumes are confined within the tale of scarecrow/minotaur traveling within a rural setting via the cornfield. Those two volumes are from the point of view of superheroes who were defeated and exiled by their last battle.
The last two include a new superhero, the daughter of Black Hammer, who has now taken up the mantel. Her travels are what knock the series out of its initial state.
Like volume three, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part One, volume four dips into metafiction as a means of travel. First it's Lucy Weber, who becomes the new Black Hammer, who travels different dimensions to learn the truth. Now it's Weird who makes the trip. I'd love to say that Weird's trip was weird but it's actually derivative and predictable. He essentially recapitulates Duck Amuck (Warner Bros., 1953).
After Weird's trip, we're given a look at what has happened to all the other characters. They are back in Spiral City, but a version where superheroes don't exist. As they have all had their powers stripped, they are collectively marginalized travelers (66).
The journey this time is Spiral City (00). They have returned home but at a huge price. The original Black Hammer is still dead and now Weird is too. He failed to complete the space mission where he received his powers. Further more, the city is under threat again from Anti-God.
The route they take is the labyrinth. Yes, there's the threat of the Anti-God but he's off screen for this entire volume. The neverending storm is the closest he comes to manifesting. Without a manifest threat, the maze becomes a transformative path, namely a labyrinth (99). It's shape is reiterated in the city's very name: Spiral City.
Thus Black Hammer goes from two volumes of scarecrows and minotaurs traveling to and through a rural landscape via the cornfield (9933FF) to a family of travelers going through utopia via the cornfield (33FFFF), to one last journey of marginalized travelers going to and through the city via the labyrinth.
The Tiger at Midnight: 01/13/20
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala is the first in a fantasy trilogy set in a landscape inspired by Indian history and myths. It's told in alternating points of view between a soldier, Kunal, and an assassin, Esha.
The country is one recovering from a bloody coup where the royal family was slaughtered, save perhaps one daughter. Drought too has settled in, parching the landscape. Believers say the gods have forsaken them because the ancient rituals can no longer be performed.
But mostly it's a cat and mouse game that settles into something similar to The 39 Steps (the film, not the novel). Kunal and Esha end up having to work together even though he has been sent after her. He's supposed to capture her and take her back to the garrison.
In all of this chase northward, one is reminded of the title. It's the first part of an adage that says a tiger at midnight is the manifestation of unfinished business. Kunal and Esha both have their own tigers — figurative and literal. The figurative one is the hook for the second book, The Archer at Dawn, which is released on May 26, 2020.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles: 01/12/20
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is a picture book about a man who lives by the sea and has taken upon himself to deliver messages in bottles. Except one day a bottle contains an invitation to a party. The problem is, he doesn't know who to deliver it to.
The conclusion is rather like that of The Monster at the End of This Book (1971). The intended recipient is the one who usually delivers them. The party is a thank you for all the deliveries he's made.
The illustrations remind me of Barbara Cooney's work in Miss Rumphius. Both are done in soft pastel colors that give a dreamy feel to the seascapes and to the over all story.
The Mess That We Made: 01/11/20
The Mess That We Made by Michelle Lord and Julie Blattman is about plastic trash polluting the world's oceans. It is a "House that Jack Built" type progressive narrative. I'm normally not a fan of this type of storytelling but it works here.
There are two halves to this book. The first half establishes just how bad things have gotten. It begins with four children in a boat floating over a body of water littered with plastics and the caption: "This is the mess that we made." It ends where it began, though this time with a whale swimming through that mess and the repeated line: "Look at the mess that we made."
The book could have ended there with the whale and her calf swimming through garbage with the tiny boat of children on the surface. It would have been a dark and biting critique of the current state of our oceans.
But there is the second half, one that revisits the text with calls to action. "[W]e are the ones that save the day." Here the beach is shown with people participating in a beach clean-up day. After outlining all the ways we can fix things, it shows the same whale and calf in pristine waters, teaming with fish and the text: "that swim in the ocean that WE save!"
Throughout the book, the illustrations by Julia Blattman are what drive the narrative. Blattman is a visual development artist at Paramount. Her two page spreads show a cinematic eye. These pages could be stills from an animated film or storyboards for a live action films. The Mess That We Made is her first illustrated book. I hope it's the first of many!
The Great Brain Robbery: 01/10/20
The Great Brain Robbery by P.G. Bell is the sequel to The Train to Impossible Places (2018). Suzy Smith is back working for the Impossible Postal Express, for the dedication of the repaired train. What should have been a quick after dinner event ends up being a multiple day adventure to save Trollville from destruction after a horrendous earthquake.
Although Suzy will miss school and her parents will miss work, she has to stay to save Trollville and her friends. While she and the train will use the impossible rails to get help, the postmaster will stay behind to investigate in the city. Suzy also has Frederick's help; he of the formerly cursed snow globe.
This volume goes more into the details of how Trollville works. There is extensive time spent exploring the ins and outs and ups and downs of the city. There is exploration of the city's history, its culture, and its government.
While this series is from the UK, it continues to sit on the road narrative spectrum as an outlier. This second book takes a shift towards horror in which and how the road narrative building blocks are used.
The first book was a fantasy similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz except for the railway being the route. Now, though, the destination is a known place, thus removing it from utopia, from Suzy's point of view.
The biggest shift on the spectrum, though, is a change in traveler type. In the previous book, Suzy as an orphan (separated from her family), was the most powerful type of traveler. Now, though, she knows she can eventually return and she and the other postal workers are acting as protectors (or scarecrows) for Trollville (99).
When there is a scarecrow type travelers, there is often also a minotaur. The minotaur is a traveler trapped by circumstances, and sometimes also a threat to the wellbeing of other characters. That's the case here. The titular character is the minotaur to Suzy and the others' scarecrows.
As the destination is no longer utopia (a no or unknown place), it must be somewhere else on the spectrum list. The destination this time is a bit more metaphorical. It's a time before the earthquake. Or more precisely, it's an understanding of what built Trollville and a desire to prevent its destruction. All these time sensitive prompts makes the destination uhoria (CC).
The route, though, remains the railway. Thus The Great Brain Robbery is the tale of scarecrows against a minotaur to uhoria via the railway (99CC00).
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 01/09/20
Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kelly Thompson and Veronica Fish is a collection of issues 1-5. It's a redo or reimagining of Sabrina and her aunts, and of course, Salem the familiar.
It's been probably forty years since I read a Sabrina comic. As a kid I remember head-canoning that this Sabrina was the same Sabrina from Bewitched, just younger. The white hair / black hair difference could be explained away with dye. Of course that's all just my silly retconning of two unrelated series.
My other early memories of Sabrina is the Filmation series. I did most of my Archie comics consumption via the cartoons that were on in the 1970s. The late 1990s TV series I've seen maybe an episode or two. By then I was an adult I just couldn't take animatronic Salem seriously enough to want to watch regularly.
The thing that ultimately brought me to reading Thompson and Fish's comic is the Netflix adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The comic was originally by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack, which I have yet to read.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch like the comics since the 1990s removes Ambrose from the Spellman household. Pity, because I rather like him. This comic then is more in line with the sitcom. Salem at least is back to being snarky and awesome.
The plot is essentially a multi-issue mystery. There are monsters in the forest near the school. Sabrina quickly realizes that the monsters are transformed high schoolers. The big question is why? And who is behind it?
The book was a fun read. The series continues this year with Something Wicked.
The Space Between: 01/08/20
The Space Between by Dete Meserve is about an astronomer coming home from a conference to find her husband missing, presumed kidnapped. She has to do everything she can to find him while planted evidence makes her look responsible for his disappearance.
The book is set in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Sarah, her missing husband, and their near-do-well son, Zack, live in Bel Air and she commutes every day to Pasadena. Right there I have questions — how did they afford the house and why isn't her commute worse given the distance and the lack of major freeways near her home. Or maybe I'm still traumatized from my two years of commuting to and from UCLA when I was living in Pasadena.
The evidence against Sarah include a million dollar deposit, a deleted security camera record, an alarm that wasn't set, and a loaded Glock she's never seen before. Then to make things more complicated, there's evidence her husband may have killed a woman he was seen with during a business trip to New York.
The mystery itself was along the lines of an elaborate Columbo plot without the benefit of seeing the crime committed. Given the husband is missing and the murder victim is someone Sarah has never met, there's not the emotional draw like the cozies I regularly read would have.
The set up for the actual murder plot — the woman in New York — took longer to set up than it needed to. There's a lot of time spent with back story about Sarah's relationship with her husband and the trouble they've been having with their son.
The setting also isn't used to its full potential. Sarah's place of employment ends up being a made up one, named for Carnegie — which brings to mind turn of the last century libraries, not modern day science labs. If Pasadena is key to the plot, why not make her employer either JPL or Caltech?
The Big Shrink: 01/07/20
The Big Shrink by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins is the sixth in the Upside-Down Magic series. This one is primarily from Marigold Ramos's point of view. She is the deaf student who has a problem accidentally shrinking people and things.
Before settling into Marigold's point of view, the first chapter is from Nory's. She was the protagonist / narrator for the first four books. She's at home for Thanksgiving and is introduced to the hot new toy, Dreggs. They are mini-dragons that hatch out of eggs and are active during the day. The more one plays with them, the more tricks they will learn. Nori goes back to her aunt's and to her school with a stash of these Dreggs to give to her friends.
The Dreggs quickly become the hot thing at Dunwiddle Magic School after Nori gives one to each of her classmates. Kids in other classes decide to get them too and there's finally something the regular kids and the students of Ms. Starr's class can bond over.
Enter Marigold. She has extra tutoring for her shrinking magic problem from a grad student. While the tutor is a bit of a ditz, her lessons do genuinely seem to be helping. While she's getting her powers under control, the Dreggs are becoming a nuisance from the administration's POV and are subsequently banned.
Here though is where the book took a tangent from where I thought it should go. The toy dragons are so life like I expected them to be shrunken dragons. I thought maybe Nory and Marigold could have worked together to figure this out and solve the mystery. Instead, they work together to mount a school wide protest. A seventh book has been announced: Hide and Seek but I don't know the release date.
Magnificent Birds: 01/06/20
Candlewick Press may have provided the text for Magnificent Birds but Narisa Togo's illustrations give the book its heart and soul. She is an artist living and working in Japan and has a life long love for birds. I read her book as research and inspiration for the summer camp I was planning: birds of a feather, dinosaurs together.
The book contains two page spreads of fourteen birds. They are painted in their habitat. The book gives their common name, their scientific name, and where they are native. The book offers something from all the continents.
The illustrations are bold and inviting but made up of a limited selection of colors. They are lino cut illustrations. Many of the birds are ones that will be easily recognized: flamingo, ruby throated humming bird (the cover illustration), barn owl, and so on.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 06): 01/06/20
New Years was fun. My in-laws visited from Monday through Thursday morning. We put together a jigsaw puzzle, a tradition we've had for at least as long as I've been part of the family.
So far I'm sticking with my #art366 plan.
On Sunday I finished the Black-necked Stilt painting. It's an acrylic on an 8x10 canvas.
I also did another two fireworks paintings for the sketchbook which is due in February.
What I read:
To start off the year I read a bunch of short books. Two of them are new releases, World's Worst Parrot, and The Mess That We Made.
What I'm reading:
The Troubleshooter's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy: 01/05/20
My mother's cousin has built and maintained the Weber family tree for a number of years. He set up accounts for all of us. As it happens the service he used was also one I could access through my library. It was a website, then, that I am comfortably familiar with, albeit in reduced capacities when I was a subscribed but non paying member.
Thanksgiving 2017 my mother in law told me how there was conflicting information about when her father changed the family name. The question was basically: did he do it before or after he was married? I volunteered to figure that information out.
But here's the thing, I couldn't save any of what I had learned to my first cousin once removed's family tree. The site only allows one administrator who is in charge of adding or removing people from the tree. If I were going to ad my MIL's tree (or even my husband's tree), I would need to be a paying member and be the administrator of the family tree.
In March, I felt like I had hit a dead end with confirming my grandfather in law's history. To see if I was missing anything obvious, I checked out The Troubleshooter's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy by W. Daniel Quillen. The book verified that I was doing what I could with the online tools and that I wasn't missing out on anything obvious.
If you are just starting with building your family tree, Quillen's book will be a good place to start. If you have already started and feel like you've hit a brick wall with what you can do online, this book won't be advanced enough. The book is also slanted heavily towards Family Search, the Mormon run site. Personally I've found that site hit or miss with a lot of stray or cloned data.
World's Worst Parrot: 01/04/20
World's Worst Parrot by Alice Kuipers opens with Ava learning that she has inherited her great uncle's African gray parrot. There's a note saying the uncle remembered her loving the parrot when she was younger but Ava has no memory of him or the bird.
Ava lives with her mother and brother. Her father is separated or divorced from her mother and has relocated to Vancouver. His leaving has been hard on all of them. Her once carefree mother is now a neat freak and has done a massive decluttering of the home. A parrot (or any sort of animal) doesn't make sense in the sort of environment she has created for herself and her children.
For Ava the biggest conflict comes from her desire to be popular on Instagram. She wants to present herself as living the perfect life. It's a complete fabrication. Gregg, though, posts photos and videos of her with the parrot and those get the sort of numbers of followers, likes, and comments that she's been struggling to get.
At school, too, Ava comes to realize her friendships aren't as genuine as she thought. The parrot ends up being a divisive factor. Her so called friends will only continue being friends if she gets rid of him.
Although the family dynamic is different, World's Worst Parrot reminds me of the Bat books by Elana K. Arnold. In A Boy Called Bat (2017), it's up to Bat to be the skunk kit's champion. He does all the heavy lifting in terms of learning how to care for the skunk and then providing the care. Ava is in the same position with the parrot, the biggest different being that he is an adult bird.
It Devours!: 01/03/20
It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is the sequel to Welcome to Night Vale (2015). Nilanjana Sikdar a scientist who works with Carlos is investigating the giant sink holes that have started swallowing up buildings on the edge of town. Meanwhile, Darryl is trying to recruit for followers for the Church of the Smiling God. The tug of war of science and faith might spell the end of Night Vale.
The central themes this time are the need to belong — be it to a community like Night Vale or a church or a place of work. It's also about being true to yourself even in the throws of faith. Nilanjana needs to decide how much of herself she can comfortably change to lose her interloper status. Darryl needs to decide how much of his life he should continue giving to the Smiling God. Carlos needs to decide how to balance science and family.
As Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor are genre savvy, the Nigh Vale stories in any form make full use of the road narrative tropes to explore themes, build characters, and to entertain. This second novel moves right into the horror zone of the road narrative spectrum.
One could argue that with the coupling of Nilanjana and Darryl, as well as the marital status of Cecil and Carlos, that the traveler remains the couple between books, but I argue that it is the privileged traveler (00). Darryl makes progress because of his behind the scenes access at the church. Nilanjana and Carlos both have an effect on the wellbeing of Night Vale (for better or worse).
The destination this time is utopia (FF). For the farmer it's a trip to the land on the other side of the house that doesn't exist. For Darryl it's wherever the Smiling God promises. For Carlos and Nilanjana is their ties to the world outside of Night Vale.
The route is the labyrinth (99) as shown through the spinning of the entity that might be the Smiling God. While falling through the earth might seem like certain death, but the farmer shows it's not the case. While the other world means being separated from friends and family, it's not a dangerous place. It's a place of stasis. Travel through the old oak doors is a transformative one.
All together, It Devours is the tale of privileged travelers going to and from utopia through the labyrinth.
The third book in the series is The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (2020). It releases in March.
Road Narrative Update for December 2019: 01/03/20
I covered 15 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 11 reviews and 4 books still needing to review. I'm taking a break right now from writing essays to focus on reading.
I still have 44 spots open in the road narrative spectrum where I still need to find an exemplar. I've found exemplars for 80% of the spectrum.
Swing it, Sunny: 01/02/20
Swing it, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm is set in the 1976-1977 school year after her late summer trip to Florida in Sunny Side Up (2015). She's entering middle school and feels both scared and saddened that her reputation is tainted by her brother's time here. He's meanwhile at a military school as part of his post drug abuse recovery plan.
The book is a series of vignettes through the course of the year. Some of them involve her brother — either how he's doing at school — or how his absence is felt at home.
There are two things that have stuck with me most. The first is the news that Al has died in Florida. Sunny imagines that the alligator has died and that the retirement villagers have thrown an elaborate funeral for him. Turns out it's one of the residents, also named Al.
The second vignette involves Sunny buying a gift for her brother and sending it to him at school. It's a pet rock — one of the most quintessential fads of the decade. His growth as a person, and the signs of his recovery are how his reaction to the present change. At first he's annoyed but by the end, he has it proudly displayed.
The third book in the series is Sunny Rolls the Dice which came out October 1st, 2019.
December 2019 Sources: 01/02/20
December was a busy month with an art commission and holiday planning. The commission meant I needed a library book for research. Total reading numbers were up despite being busy but the ROOB score wasn't as good.
I read seventeen TBR books, and two published in December. Eight books were for research. Two were from the library. My ROOB score was higher by .34, which means a trend in the "wrong" direction.
At the end of 2019, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. December 2019 was the second best December ROOB score since I started tracking these metrics. I hope January continues this trend.
My average for December improved from -2.56 to -2.65.
Out of Circulation: 01/01/20
Out of Circulation by Miranda James is the fourth book in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. The Ducote sisters are hosting the annual library fundraising gala at their home. Vera Cassity, their loudest opponent ends up dead in a disused staircase and Charlie Harris's housekeeper, Azalea ends up being the prime suspect.
Even before Vera's death, Charlie learns of her reputation and sees some of her bad attitude in action. She was a harsh, demanding woman with a temper. She wasn't the genteel white former plantation owner family that everyone else wants.
Afterwards, though, Charlie comes to learn why she acted the way she did. He also learns some deep and long buried secrets involving the Ducote sisters.
The mystery hinges on genealogy, finances, and sex. Ultimately the murder is a crime of passion. Observant readers can pick out who the killer is early on. The clues are there if you pay attention. Then comes the fun of understanding why the killer did it (beyond Vera being a terribly annoying person).
The fifth book in the series is The Silence of the Library (2014).
December 2019 Summary: 01/01/20
December was busier than November, taken up with painting, drawing, planning for the holidays, the holidays themselves. With everything going on I wasn't inclined to push myself to read during free time. Schedules I had made back in fall had to be revised.
One change was I started using the library again, albeit in a limited way. I'm restricting myself to only one or two books out at a given time. I have to read what I have out and return it before getting something else. Likewise I'm keeping my hold requests to one or two at a time.
I read more books in December, 29, up from the previous months' 21. I made my my diverse reading goal. It wasn't as spectacular as November.
January I will be focusing on selling my art. First I have a commission to finish. I don't know how my reading will be affected.
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 25 from 27, and my 2019 books to review are down to 72 from 74.