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February 2020

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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Chirp: 02/29/20

Chirp

Chirp by Kate Messner is set in the summer after Mia and her parents move back to Burlington Vermont from Boston. They are here to help Mia's grandmother with her cricket business while she recovers from a stroke. When they arrive, the find her back at work, trying to expand the business, and utterly convinced that someone is sabotaging it.

Mia is also recovering emotionally and mentally from a broken arm that took her out of gymnastics for a year. Her arm has healed but the rest of her hasn't. Now she's forced to participate in two summer camps to get out of house. One of them is a young entrepreneurs camp and the other is a warrior camp, where she will be forced to face her lingering fears.

It was the cricket plot that hooked me. Grandmother's business is the raising of food grade crickets for human consumption. Some are roasted with different flavors. Some are ground into a flour like substance.

There are so many details to focus on: temperature and humidity, cricket diseases, breeding, feeding, watering, separating out the living from the dead before freezing. Each step can be plagued with human error, inefficiencies, and timing issues.

At the young entrepreneurs camp, Mia gets a chance to make friends and help her grandmother's business. It was fun seeing the brainstorming and the way Mia and her friends put their ideas into action.

Chirp is a good follow up read for fans of The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz and Click'd by Tamara Ireland Stone.

Five stars

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Everywhere You Want to Be: 02/28/20

Everywhere You Want to Be

Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June is set in Manhattan. Matilda "Tilly" Castillo has come to a summer dance camp, hoping to earn a spot in a contemporary dance troupe. She's got one big thing holding her back, the memory of a recent injury.

The chapters are fairly episodic, about different aspects of her time in Manhattan. There are chapters in the dorm, chapters exploring the city, chapters getting lost, and chapters about dancing.

It's a fairly quiet novel — a coming of age over the course of a summer. Tilly does a lot growing as a person and learns to trust herself as a dancer again.

All of this sits in the road narrative spectrum. Tilly because she's new to the city and because she's been injured, she is a marginalized traveler (66). Her destination is the city (00). Her means of getting to Manhattan was the train (00). Thus Everywhere You Want to Be can be summed up as the tale of a marginalized traveler going to the city via the railroad (660000).

Three stars

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The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part Two: 02/27/20

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part Two

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino was released last November and I completely missed it even though I had been keeping current with releases in this series. I'm reviewing it now because I have the concluding volume on hand to read and review.

In Part One the big question was Kuvira's loyalty to elections in the Earth Kingdom. She was Korra's last ditch effort to stop Commander Guan and his splinter army from using the elections to stage a coup.

Now in the middle volume, we see just how dangerous Guan is. He has a doctor on hand and together they've made the brain washing at Lake Laogai (Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 2, Episode 17).

Normally I find brainwashing plots hard to swallow but the Avatar world-building has established how it works and The Legend of Korra stories have all been wrapped around how advances in bending has been helping the modernization of their world.

Five stars

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Once Upon a Grind: 02/26/20

Once Upon a Grind

Once Upon a Grind by Cleo Coyle is the fourteenth of Coffeehouse mystery series. It's Fairy Tale Week at Central Park. Clare and company have their food truck on scene and Madame is playing the role of a fortune teller with the help of a special blend of coffee. At the end of the day, the nanny of Mike Quinn's children is missing, only to be found unconscious in a wooded area of the park.

A few books back the author began including dream sequences for Clare. Initially they were from fatigue or trauma. Then they were because she was drugged. Now it's the special beans from Kenya and Clare apparently has second sight.

I get that this book and mystery is nursery rhyme and fantasy themed, but the extended visions are tiresome. Take them out of this book and the novel would shrink by half.

The next book in the series is Dead to the Last Drop (2015).

Three stars

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Rogue Princess: 02/25/20

Rogue Princess

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers is described as a gender swapped Cinderella. At it's most basic, it is, but it's so much more. And it's going to really difficult to say just how much more without spoiling things. I don't want to do that.

Princess Delia and her mother have welcomed suitors from all the nearby kingdoms. Delia is to pick the man who offers the best package for her country. This isn't about love, this is about survival.

Meanwhile, Aiden works in the palace kitchen and has been supplementing his income by stealing things. He makes the mistake of swiping a sword from one of the visiting princes and ends up having to flee for his life. Next thing he knows, he's on a shuttle being flown by Princess Delia, who has decided she needs a break from all these would be suitors.

With Aiden essentially acting as a thief and living in the slums near the palace, the Cinderella tale takes on an Aladdin vibe. Except there isn't a djinn. Everything Aiden manages to do, everyone he manages to persuade, he does on his own merits. That includes, convincing Delia that he is actually her bodyguard.

But Rogue Princess isn't just a retelling of a fairytale. Nor is it just a mashup of a couple of fairytales. The next layer of the novel's influence is a mix of Philip K. Dick and Carlo Collodi. How those two are combined is revealed through the novel's placement on the road narrative spectrum.

The travelers in this novel are Delia and Aiden. By their relationship alone it's clear that they are a minotaur and scarecrow (99) pairing. Delia is trapped by circumstances and duty to the crown and her country, thus metaphorically making her a minotaur. Aiden wants to protect her, metaphorically making him a scarecrow. But sometimes in these narratives minotaurs and scarecrows are also literal characters.

The destination for Delia is a place where she can find a way of saving her country without an outside suitor. Aiden needs to find a way of saving himself from the crippling headaches that are threatening to kill him. Both of these solutions exist in the wildlands (99).

The route they take is the maze (CC). There is the political maze of the suitors. There is the programatic maze of the SHEW. There is also the maze of tunnels out in the wildlands. All of them are part of the journey Delia and Aiden take.

All together the unconventional romance of Delia and Aiden is constructed as the journey of a minotaur and scarecrow to the wildlands via the maze.

Five stars

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(Don't) Call Me Crazy: 02/24/20

(Don't) Call Me Crazy

(Don't) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen is a collection of short essays by various authors and artists about their experiences with mental illness, learning disabilities, or with being neural divergent.

There are more than thirty of these stories. Some are essays. Some are personal accounts. Some are comics. Some are lists. Some are poems.

I found reading this book difficult for two reasons.

The first is just the sheer number of these pieces. As it's a short book in total number of pages, only 228 in total, there's not enough time spent on any particular story or any particular subject.

The second problem for me is the page layout — small typeface often one color on another color. It's hard on the eyes and sometimes impossible to read without the aid of a magnifying glass.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 24): 02/24/20

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

Drawings I made:


Left: A broom (Feb 17). Right: Grilled cheese and tomato soup no.2 (Feb 18)


Left: Plum blossom (Feb 19). Right: Cumquats (Feb 20). Both drawn with Copic Markers.


Left: Cracked eggs (Feb 21). Right: California scrub jay (Feb 22).

Paintings worked on:

Moose reading for an apple
Apple Moose after 4 hours of work.

Butternut soup and grilled cheese
Butternut soup and grilled cheese after 2 hours of work.

Casa del Capitan
Casa del Capitan after 2 hours of work.

What I read:

  • A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds
  • Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright
  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong (Illustrator)
  • Flour in the Attic by Winnie Archer
  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

What I'm reading:

  • Notorious by Gordon Korman
  • The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
  • Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher
  • The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Up Soon:

  • Turtle under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
  • Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire
  • We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Comments  (20)


Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso: 02/23/20

Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso

Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso is a board book that features some simple line sketches and whimsical descriptions. The drawings, done often as a single black curving line could be replicated in twisted wire or string or similar.

I read the book during my research stage for a summer art camp I was designing. I like the simplicity of the designs. Minimalism is something children can do, but don't always want to do on the belief that adults expect there to be more to a drawing.

On the practical side, though, these sketches if used as a lesson as is wouldn't take more than half an hour to maybe an hour out of six hours of art camp time.

Four stars

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A Mixture of Mischief: 02/22/20

A Mixture of Mischief

A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano is the third in the Love, Sugar, Magic middle grade series. Leo Logroño is becoming an active member of the baking staff with the rest of her family. She's come up with popular cookies and is working to hone her magical skills. Her parents are talking about buying a larger house and her oldest sister wants to go college in New Orleans.

But trouble is on the horizon in the form of an unknown grandfather. He's her father's father and a dangerous brujo. He's dangerous because he's selfish. Now he's offering to train Leo in the art of saltasombra or shadow jumping. It's a form of invisibility and a form of astral projection.

Leo does the sensible thing and declines his offer. She'd prefer to hone her skills within the context of the cooking magic and space magic her mother and sisters use. Abuelo, though, belittles that choice, and that's when things start going bad for the family. Retribution comes in the form of higher rent, a rival bakery, and missing magical items.

RNS chart showing the progression of the three books in the series. Click to see a larger version.

Like the other two books in the series, A Mixture of Mischief sits on the road narrative spectrum. While in stories written by white authors, the first novel, A Dash of Trouble would be the one where Leo is at her most powerful as a solo or orphan traveler, in Latinx stories, families are more powerful and more protected as travelers. Thus the progression of books two, A Sprinkle of Spirits and A Mixture of Mischief through the possibilities of the family traveler (33) stories is expected. It also shows a strengthening of la familia Logroño.

The destination this time is home (66). It's both the protection of the current home and the ability to move into a new home. There are also numerous trips to the home of the potential rival of future Honey Bee Café to search for clues.

The route to home is a metaphorical cornfield. Like Beneath the Sugar Sky, the cornfield is manifest through it's use as baking ingredients (FF).

All together, A Mixture of Mischief is the tale of a family protecting their home by way of the cornfield.

Five stars

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The Thief Knot: 02/21/20

The Thief Knot

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford is another Nagspeak novel. Like Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, there are enough Nagspeak books now to have spawned multiple series. In total publication, The Thief Knot is the eighth book. Of the Greenglass House (2014) books, it's the fourth.

This book is set primarily in the Liberty, a vibrant walled city, sort of a Vatican City for thieves and smugglers. It follows Marzana, first introduced in Ghosts of Greenglass House (2018). Marzana, save for an eventful Christmas trip to Greenglass House, has lived a boring life, unaware of her parents' adventures. She knows they've had them, that they are continuing to have them, sometimes, and is growing resentful at their secrecy.

Marzana and her friends are fans of a children's mystery series that is part Choose Your Own Adventures and part 39 Clues but with a complexity that Nagspeak and Liberty natives would expect. And it's because of these books that Marzana is desperate for a mystery or a caper. She wants her very own adventure.

A Nagspeak kidnapping with ties to the Liberty ends up being just the mystery Marzana has been dreaming of. A girl about her age has been taken. She's believed to be in the Liberty. Marzana's parents have been contacted to help find the girl but she believes she and her friends have the advantage. They are children, after all, and they know the city the way children would.

Their investigation, like every other Nagspeak novel to date, falls into the road narrative spectrum. Given the changeable nature of the iron, I expect all the books in this series will have a place on the R.N.S.

The travelers are Marzana and her friends. Most of them are fellow classmates, but some are recruits from another school, brought onto this case because of specific skills or knowledge. As they are children and are accountable to their parents, teachers, and other adults, they are marginalized travelers (66). But their access to the schools and their invisibility as children, does give them certain advantages over their parents.

Their destination is home (66). First there is the metaphorical goal of finding and returning the girl to her home, her parents. Second, there are their own homes where they plan, investigate, and solve puzzles and clues. Finally, there are two literal homes that have been used by the criminals.

The children's journey takes them outside the safety of the Liberty (a place that qualifies as a labyrinth) and into the maze (CC) of Nagspeak proper. Their investigation also takes them to the kidnappers and into some of the most overgrown, iron-rich areas.

All together, The Thief Knot is the tale of marginalized travelers trying to get a girl home by way of the maze.

Five stars

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Giant Days Volume 12: 02/20/20

Giant Days Volume 12

Giant Days Volume 12 by John Allison opens with the aftermath of the Australia trip (see volume 11). Things are rocky between Ed and his girlfriend. She's falling into old habits, including excessive drinking with her teammates. Ed has to decide what to do — stick with her or move on.

As their university time is winding down, all the scenarios are outside of school. It's the various characters trying at adulting. Some are successful, some less so. Some reach success at the expense of everyone else's mental wellbeing.

My favorite of the scenarios is Daisy learning to drive. Daisy who throughout the series has been the one who has it together, is singlehandedly taking out the entire driving school. She's a different person behind the wheel — simultaneously too trusting and too reckless. Yet, somehow when all is on the line, she manages to pass her test and not run over friends.

Volume 13 releases on June 16, 2020.

Four stars

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Crust No One: 02/19/20

Crust No One

Crust No One by Winnie Archer is the second of the Bread Shop mystery series. Ivy Culpepper is continuing to work part time at Yeast of Eden under Olaya Solis. On one particular morning, the Blackbird Ladies introduce Ivy to "Mustache" Hank Rivera. She doesn't think much of it until he turns up missing.

Even though Ivy only met Mustache Hank once, she feels compelled to help Miguel (her ex) and the Blackbird Ladies find him. Their investigation takes them through the last days of his known routine.

Like Ivy I was really hoping that Hank was just missing. Each person interviewed and each location visited filled in more details of his life, making Hank one of most well formed characters in a mystery, especially for one who only has a few spoken lines.

The mystery itself was pretty easy to solve over the course of Ivy's travels around town. Even before she recognizes some key evidence I had the who and why sorted out. Despite that, I enjoyed Crust No One thoroughly. It's a well crafted mystery.

The third book is The Walking Bread (2018).

Four stars

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Story Boat: 02/18/20

Story Boat

Story Boat by Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh is dedicated to the Syrian refugees.

To all innocent Syrian refugee children who have experienced horrible war and injustice at a young age. Each has their own story, and they sail with their story boats like messengers of hope and peace.

The text though, doesn't limit itself to Syrian refugees. Instead the children and adults traveling across the land and sea are left unnamed allowing any displaced child the chance to see themselves.

The main characters appear to be a sister and brother. The sister is recording their journey through her drawings. She reimagines the things in her life as parts of a boat. The boat is a stand in for both the journey and for her hope for a better life, a new home.

The book ends with an actual boat journey and the landing during a snow storm. They are greeted by a man carrying an umbrella, rushing to offer it to the refugees as they disembark their inflated boat, a woman carrying blankets, a red haired girl, and a dog.

Throughout Kheiriyeh uses a complimentary pallet of blue and orange, with details done in black and white. It's a soothing choice of colors. They help present a heart-wrenching human experience in a gentle and approachable manner.

Five stars

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The Old Truck: 02/17/20

The Old Truck

The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey is about a family farm and its old, trusty truck. Dad and Mom work together on the farm. Their daughter grows up on the farm.

The truck, probably a late 1950s or early 1960s affair is kept running until the daughter's about ten or so. Then it's left to sit by the barn as life on the farm goes on.

Flash forward a decade or so and now the daughter is running the farm with her family. She also decides it's time to fix the truck. It's older and rusty now but she's quietly determined.

The appeal for me initially was the familiarity of the truck. My father when he was younger used to restore old cars — ones much older than this book's truck. For the last decade or so, he's been a proud owner of a Studebaker truck of similar vintage.

Per an NPR interview, the book was inspired by an old farm truck Jerome Pumphrey saw in Texas on the way to visit his brother, Jarrett. They decided to let time pass around the truck as it sits inoperative. Time is shown through the seasons, through the girl aging, and through things growing up around the truck, until it's completely hidden behind brambles.

This book is more than just the story of an old truck. The retro-styled illustrations by Jerome Pumphrey show a Black family. They show the women being equals on the farm. In most of reading of farm equipment picture books, the human famers are often absent. If they are present, they're white.

Detail showing the father, son, and daughter working near the barn.

The illustrations were made from hand crafted stamps. There are more than 250 stamps, enough to give each spread a unique but stylistically tied look.

The decision to focus on the women on the farm was a way to honor the women in their lives. Women who share-cropped. Women who like the daughter, persisted.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 17): 02/17/20

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

Drawings I made:


Left: A young turkey (Feb 09). Right: A mourning dove in a plum tree (Feb 10)


Left: Daffodils (Feb 11). Right: A spotless ladybug (Feb 12). Both drawn with Copic Markers.


Left: Red rose bud (Feb 13). Right: Snail shell hanging from a dead anise plant (Feb 14). Both drawn with Copic Markers.


Left: Chocolate dipped strawberries (Feb 15). Right: Turkey vulture in profile (Feb 16). Both drawn with Copic Markers.

Paintings worked on:

Painting of paintbrushes against a painting
Paintbrushes is complete.

Green heron standing in water
Green heron is complete.

Moose reading for an apple
Apple Moose after 3 hours of work.

Butternut soup and grilled cheese
Butternut soup and grilled cheese after 1 hour of work.

What I read:

  • Story Boat by Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh (Illustrator)
  • No Mallets Intended by Victoria Hamilton and Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
  • You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim (Illustrator)
  • Audubon Cat by Mary Calhoun, Susan Bonners (Illustrator)
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
  • School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Illustrator)
  • Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers
  • Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle
  • Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

What I'm reading:

  • A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds
  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Up Soon:

  • Notorious by Gordon Korman
  • The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
  • Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher
  • The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Comments  (22)


Jumanji: 02/16/20

Jumanji

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg wasn't a book I was expecting to read but the book came up in discussion when my husband and I were watching episode 15 of Hyouka, "The Jumanji Affair." We wanted to see if Van Allsburg's book had any explanation for the title.

The answer is no.

Jumanji is a use of ritual music to manifest spirits. Manji is the Buddhist swastika.

Jumanji is the author's second book. It's a black and white pencil drawing of ornate scenes. It's heavy on show and little on tell. Two bored kids find a board game they've seen before and decide to play it, thus releasing a curse that can only be put back to sleep if they play the entire game. In the meantime their home is transformed into a jungle and they have numerous life and death situations to deal with.

Since then the book has been made into two different films. There's also a sequel to the book and sequels to the films. I haven't seen any of the films nor read the sequel.

I know this book is widely popular as are many of his other books. I personally find his books off putting. There's just something not quite right about them. They are at the edge of the uncanny valley for me.

Five stars

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The Hand on the Wall: 02/15/20

The Hand on the Wall

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson is the satisfying conclusion to the Truly Devious YA mystery trilogy. Stevie came to Ellingham Academy to solve the mystery of Alice's disappearance in 1937. But three people have died since her arrival: one from a tragic accident, one by misadventure, and now one in a house fire.

Beset by tragedy and with a looming blizzard, Elligham Academy is shut down. Except Stevie and her closest group of friends decide to ignore orders and hide out at school. As the weather worsens, Stevie pieces together the final clues to solve all four mysteries.

The Truly Devious trilogy is really one long, tightly written novel broke up into three convenient to hold volumes. All three pieces share the same placement on the road narrative spectrum, another sign that they are actually a singular narrative (as The Lord of the Rings is).

The placement on the narrative for the three pieces, as well as the whole, is the tale of marginalized travelers (66), students, traveling through uhoria (CC), both the old school grounds as well as the historic documents, via the maze (CC), in the form of the many dangerous secrets built into the school grounds.

I think the back and forth between present and past as well as the remote school setting would translate well to a television mystery series.

Five stars

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Alice Isn't Dead: 02/14/20

Alice Isn't Dead

Alice Isn't Dead by Joseph Fink is the novelization of the podcast of the same name. My husband listened to the podcast and I bought the book. Having only heard the first episode of the podcast, my review will strictly be of the novel.

Keisha Taylor drives a truck for a living. It's a second career, one she started after her wife, Alice, went missing. She's been told to assume she's dead but Keisha refuses. So, instead, she searches the highways and points in between.

On a particular day in a particular roadside diner, Keisha sees a horrible monster of man eating eggs in the most disgusting way possible. It gets worse from there, with her witnessing the man kill and eat another man. That is her first run in with a Thistle Man.

From then on, while Keisha looks for her wife, she finds herself being followed by Thistle Men. Knowledge of their existence leads her to find other oddities along the road, namely the shady nature of Praxis, the company she ends up working for, and roadside Oracles, who if you look just right are hidden in plain sight at rest stops.

With doing my best to avoid spoilers, I can say that Keisha Taylor's journey is on the road narrative spectrum. The unveiling of how the road and the three forces I've mentioned interact is also unveiled through the spectrum building blocks.

Since the title says it and it happens to be true, Keisha and Alice do find each other, and for the bulk of the book are a traveling couple (33). Their destination is home (66) — the normalcy of a time before the road became an evil threat to them. Their route is the interstate system (00). It's the apparent safety of the interstate with its sameness, it's rest stops, it's fast food, that makes it the perfect place for evil to thrive. Alice isn't Dead is the tale of a couple trying to get home via the interstate (336600).

I will do a more in depth analysis of this novel when I get to the essay on this type of road narrative story.

Five stars

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The 104-Storey Treehouse: 02/13/20

The 104-Storey Treehouse

The 104-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is the eighth in the Treehouse series. Another thirteen levels have been added and there's more trouble writing the next book.

After the usual goofing around they once again run out of time to write and illustrate their next book. On one of the new levels, there is a two dollar store that sells a joke writing device.

Of course there is a glitch with this plan and the rest of the book is Andy and Terry must quest to get what they need to buy the pen. Kudos, though, to Andy for finally remembering that he is actually an author and can write the book faster than it will take him to acquire the time saving device!

Five stars

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Billionaire Blend: 02/12/20

Billionaire Blend

Billionaire Blend by Cleo Coyle is the thirteenth book in the Coffeehouse Mystery series. This one opens with a bang, a fiery car bomb that kills a bodyguard, severely injures a tech firm billionaire, and damages the Village Blend.

Actually no. The book opens with a phone call as Clare is being whisked away to a fancy dinner at an exclusive location. Mike Quinn is concerned — possibly jealous. He's frankly too possessive of Clare and she's too willing to let him be.

The mystery is who killed the bodyguard and why. It's wrapped up in the misadventures of Clare and Eric Thorner, billionaire wonderkind. He's fashioned as a Millennial Steve Jobs/ Mark Zuckerberg. His company has a smartphone and other integrated smart devices, as well as various gaming apps.

But the problem with this volume is that the bad guys are so blatantly obvious. Perhaps it was the coincidence that I was rewatching/reading Noragami, that made me instantly spot the murderer and the plot. Not a third of the way of the book and I had the salient points sorted out. If you're curious what the connection is, pay attention to the Bishamon plot.

What remains is Clare and Mateo's round the world adventures on the dime of Eric Thorner. There's a trip to Paris, and trips to various coffee growing areas. These pieces are fun but they are essentially padding to an otherwise slim and straightforward mystery.

Four stars

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club: 02/11/20

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson started as a medical thesis and morphed into a novel about a boy taken on a series of ghost hunts with his uncle. What remains of the original thesis are introductory stories in each chapter about brain surgery patients.

It's the 1980s in Niagara Falls. Jake Baker is spending most of his free time with his Uncle Calvin. Calvin runs an occult shop and has tale after tale about the ghosts who haunt the city and its surrounds. He wants to show Jake this other side of the city.

Ultimately through these adventures, Jake comes to learn his uncle's tragic past. There's a reason he's so spacey and such a firm believer in the occult. The revelation of those reasons is couched in the building blocks of the road narrative spectrum.

There are actually two road narratives in this novel but they sit in the spot on the spectrum. To avoid spoilers, I will only look at Jake and Calvin's journey.

Jake and Calvin are family travelers (33). They adventure together, though with Calvin in the metaphorical and sometimes literal driver's seat.

Their adventures primarily take them to abandoned buildings or places outside of town. Two key places that together count as the wildlands (99) are the river area under the bridge where a car remains submerged and the foundation of a burned out house on a hill, far out of town.

The route to their destination — these wildlands — is through the cornfield (FF). This novel being Canadian, goes with the tkaronto or "place where trees stand in water" imagery, rather than the overgrown croplands that are more common in U.S. road narrative imagery.

All together, Jake and Calvin's ghost hunting adventures are framed as a family traveling to the wildlands via the cornfield (3399FF). Despite the inclusion of a potentially magical route, the type of traveler and the destination keep this novel grounded in realistic fiction.

Five stars

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Binti: Home: 02/10/20

Binti: Home

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor is the second of the Binti novellas. A year has passed, a year of Binti and Okwu being bound together. A year of being students at Oomza University. But it's time to return home and face her family, her elders, her people.

Binti returns home and is sent on a pilgrimage. An event that at one point would have been a huge spiritual experience for her isn't. She is as out of place at home as she is at Oomza — just differently so.

The pilgrimage though, does give her a chance to discover a new place for herself and Okwu in the universe. Put another way, it's a new perspective on their place in the universe.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the partnership between Binti and Okwu means a sharp move through the spectrum, from one extreme to nearly the other. This shift doesn't mean less power for Binti a traveler, rather it's a redistribution.

Chart showing the progression on the RNS from Binti to Home

As with the majority of texts I've read by non-white authors, the traveling of a couple or family makes for a stronger, safer journey, than traveling as an orphan. Here the entire journey is done together or done in relationship to each other. While not a romantic couple, Binti and Okwu are a couple (33).

While the title might imply that the destination is home, it's not. Instead, it's uhoria (CC). This uhoric destination is one through knew knowledge for Binti about her gift, her relationship to numbers, to technology and to to Okwu. She also learns of her family's heritage through the pilgrimage.

Finally there is the route. It's a twisty one but not a dangerous one. The pilgrimage is one of personal exploration and of learning. It is essentially a large scale labyrinth (99).

Put all together, Home is the tale of a couple's journey through the labyrinth to uhoria.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 10): 02/10/20

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

I've made progress in my paintbrushes painting. It's based off a sketch I did last October. I hope to finish it this week.

Left: Vine tomatoes from Jan 26. Right: Golden Gate Bridge from Jan 27. Both drawn with Copic Markers

Left: Purple and yellow pansies from Feb 03. Right: Pie pumpkins from Feb 04. Both drawn with Copic Markers
Left: Purple and yellow pansies from Feb 03. Right: Pie pumpkins from Feb 04. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

Left: Chili sauce pot from Feb 05. Right: A green acorn from Feb 06. Both drawn with Copic Markers.
Left: Chili sauce pot from Feb 05. Right: A green acorn from Feb 06. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

Left: A table inside a Japanese restaurant from Feb 07. Right: A pink tulip from Feb 08. Both drawn with Copic Markers.
Left: A table inside a Japanese restaurant from Feb 07. Right: A pink tulip from Feb 08. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

What I read:

  • The Thief Knot by Kate Milford and Jaime Zollars (Illustrator)
  • I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator)
  • I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator)
  • Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
  • Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson and Melissa Moran (Narrator)
  • Five Unicorn Flush by T.J. Berry
  • The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten and Huntley Paterson (Translation)
  • The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
  • Spore by Alex Scarrow
  • Giant Days Volume 12 by John Allison

What I'm reading:

  • Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
  • Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers
  • School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Illustrator)
  • A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano

Up Soon:

  • Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
  • Story Boat by Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh (Illustrations)
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds
  • Chirp by Kate Messner

Comments  (30)


Llamaphones: 02/09/20

Llamaphones

Llamaphones by Janik Coat is the third book in the series with Hippopposites and Rhymoceros.

Llamaphones as the title implies uses llamas to teach homophones. Although it's a board book, it's still a delightful read as an adult. Coat does a lot with his simple appearing illustrations.

The repetition and the variation is what makes this (and the other two) so special.

Five stars

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Don't Read the Comments: 02/08/20

Don't Read the Comments

Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith is a YA novel about the toxicity of gaming. It's told in alternating points of view from Divya Sharma aka D1V and Aaron Jericho, a casual gamer who is smitten with Divya and horrified by what she's going through.

D1V livestreams her gaming sessions on an MMO, Reclaim the Sun. She has sponsorships, enough to help put her mother through college and help pay rent. But then she's targeted by an online faction with local ties. At first it starts with a photo of her apartment and it escalates from there.

Aaron, meanwhile, plays the same game for fun. He plays on equipment he's cobbled together. He plays with his kid sister. He lets her name planets things like Butts. They meet by accident in the game and become friends.

This set up could have been used to make Aaron the hero. He could have been another clichéd male savior, swooping in to save the beleaguered female protagonist. Smith, though, is well aware of how awful that trope is and so is Aaron and his friends. While Aaron does his part to help, he's not the person who defeats the Vox Populi. Nope. Divya with help from a local police detective, saves herself.

Aaron, though, also has his own gaming related problems. He wants to write games. His best friend wants to do the art for them. They're being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous developer. As Divya saves herself, they save themselves.

Don't Read the Comments is an exasperating, anger inducing, and absolutely endearing read.

Five stars

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A Beginning at the End: 02/07/20

A Beginning at the End

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen is set in near future San Francisco. A pandemic has swept the planet and society is doing its best to function with only a fraction of the post disease population. The story's told from the points of view of a handful of survivors: Krista, Rob, Sunny, and Moira.

Rob works for a media distributor, deciding which stories to broadcast into the San Francisco metro. Sunny is his daughter, a child too young to remember pre-pandemic life. Krista is an events planner. Moira is a coworker of Rob, a former overland survivor, and once upon a time, an idol.

The first event that sets everything in motion is the bounty placed on information on Mojo's location. It's ten grand, an astonishing amount of money in this post-pandemic economy. Krista needs the money and Sunny knows what Mojo looks like. Rob needs someone to help him and Sunny look like a normal, healthy family before he loses custody of his daughter. But everything changes when Sunny easily recognizes Mojo.

The second event that adds urgency to the unfolding events is the return of the virus. Roadblocks between states go up. Travel is restricted. But it's in all of this chaos that the novel takes its place in the road narrative spectrum.

The travelers, even though they are going in separate vehicles and sometimes in different directions, are collectively working as a family (33). Rob and Sunny are actual family but Krista and Moira are helping to make sure they are reunited. Their destination is the Metro (or former city) of Seattle (00). Their route, while it follows the former interstate and sometimes the former Blue Highways, the roadways are falling into disrepair and sometimes they have to make their own way across the land — an offroad (66) one. All together A Beginning at the End is a road narrative about a family traveling to the city by offroad means to make sure they stay a family (330066).

In all of this, Mike Chen spins a near future tale that is hopeful even in the face of horrific tragedy. In the unfolding events of the novel coronavirus and the chartered flights from China and quarantines on military bases, A Beginning at the End is eerily timely.

Chen's next novel is We Could Be Heroes (2021).

Five stars

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Green Lantern: Legacy: 02/06/20

Green Lantern: Legacy

Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê and Andie Tong is an origin story. Tai Pham and his family live upstairs from his grandmother's store. She emigrated from Viet Nam during the war and made a life for herself and her family. To the observant reader, she's also a Green Lantern.

On the night before his grandmother's death, Tai finds her ring in his room. He tries giving it back and she refuses. Instead she recites the all familiar phrase.

The remainder of the book is how Tai learns to be a Green Lantern. It shows how he practices and trains. It shows how he includes his friends and how he learns about his grandmother's history.

Of course there's also a Yellow Lantern. As a sign of the times, evil manifests as gentrification. Tai's neighborhood is the current target for very personal reasons.

I don't know if a second volume is planned but I would read it, should it become available.

Five stars

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The Silence of the Library: 02/05/20

The Silence of the Library

The Silence of the Library by Miranda James is the fifth in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. National Library week is coming and the public library and Charlie is planning a girl detective display, featuring books from his collection.

During the planning he and the director discover that Veronica Thane's author, Electra Barnes Cartwright is still alive and living nearby. They decide to retool their entire display to feature her and her Veronica Thane books. After a visit to meet the author and her adult daughter, things get weird.

Mixed in with the mystery including an eventual murder, are scenes from the first Veronica Thane book. To the astute reader there are certain parallels with the real and the fictional mysteries.

In all honesty, I would have skipped the excerpts had I been reading a print version. As and audio, I found them entertaining to listen to, although they did make solving the mystery too easy.

The sixth book is Arsenic and Old Books (2015).

Five stars

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I'm Bored: 02/04/20

I'm Bored

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the first picture book in what's currently a three book series. It starts with a girl on her own and she's bored. During her initial frustration at having nothing to do, she finds a talking potato who declares she is boring.

The rest of the picture book, save for a final two page gag, is the girl doing her best to prove to the potato that she isn't boring. It involves a lot of make believe with Debbie Ridpath Ohi's illustrations providing the details of what she's doing or pretending.

Girls and potatoes, though, are fundamentally different. The potato just isn't interested in the sort of activities a human child is. The potato is also thoroughly convinced that the only interesting thing would be a flamingo.

Flamingo saying 'I'm bored' to a worried potato

The flamingo though....

Four stars

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Race to the Sun: 02/03/20

Race to the Sun

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is a standalone middle grade fantasy that retells the Hero Twins story. Nizhoni Begay and her brother Mac are close enough in age to almost be twins. She has recently started seeing monsters: creatures with red eyes and scary teeth who to most people appear ordinary.

Nizhoni spots a monster at a basketball game (and breaks her nose in the process). Turns out he's going to her dad's new boss. Worse yet, he wants to kill Nizhoni and kidnap Mac and Dad!

The remainder of the book is the race to the sun — or more precisely, the house of the sun, to get the weapons needed to defeat Mr. Charlie-the-monster. She, Mac, and friend Davery travel together following clues laid out by Mr. Yazee and help given by the Holy People they meet along the way.

Race to the Sun also (no surprise) sits on the road narrative spectrum. Although three children travel and could collectively be marginalized travelers (99), this novel is a modern rendition of a foundational tale to the Diné. It's the Hero Twins, not the marginalized siblings and friend. Therefore the the travelers of note are Nizhoni and Mac who are siblings (CC) close enough in age and friendship to count as twins for the purpose of their powers.

Their destination is the land of Holy People. It's not someplace the average person can get to. Although the place has been mapped and the way to it is known, it's usually known in the context of tales and songs and art. Their literal journey to and through it, is therefore a trip to and through utopia (FF).

The route to utopia is the railroad/interstate (00) and takes two forms here. The first is an Amtrak train to take them to Gallup. But it quickly becomes a train to impossible places, able to go up the sides of mountains. The second version is the Rainbow Road (shown in the Navajo Nation seal). Stay on the path through all the trials and reach the House of the Sun.

Altogether, Race to the Sun is the tale of siblings traveling to utopia via the railroad and interstate (though a magical and a metaphorical one).

Five stars

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January 2020 Sources: 02/02/20

Previous month's book sources

January was illness month for all of us. I also had two art projects to finish on deadlines. I'm continuing (in a limited capacity) to check out library books.

ROOB Score for the last three years

I read sixteen TBR books, and six published in January. As it's a new year, there's no way to stay current with purchases without having a hit against the ROOB score. Twelve books were for research. Five were from the library. My ROOB score was higher by 1.17, which means a trend in the "wrong" but expected direction.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

At the start of 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. January 2020 was the in the middle for January ROOB scores since I started tracking these metrics. February should trend downards slightly.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for January remained at -2.39.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 03): 02/03/20

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

No painting updates to share this week. I was busy finishing my Sketchbook Project book. So the only artwork to share this week are my daily drawings done with Copic Markers.

Left: Vine tomatoes from Jan 26. Right: Golden Gate Bridge from Jan 27. Both drawn with Copic Markers
Left: Vine tomatoes from Jan 26. Right: Golden Gate Bridge from Jan 27 Both drawn with Copic Markers

Left: My daughter on a bench by Lake Hemet from Jan 28. Right: Orange food from Jan 29. Both drawn with Copic Markers.
Left: My daughter on a bench by Lake Hemet from Jan 28. Right: Orange food from Jan 29. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

Left: Two ripe bananas Jan 30. Right: Cardinal from Jan 31. Both drawn with Copic Markers.
Left: Left: Two ripe bananas Jan 30. Right: Cardinal from Jan 31. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

Left: Another shiitake mushroom from Feb 01. Right: A sleeping great horned owl from Feb 02. Both drawn with Copic Markers.
Left: Another shiitake mushroom from Feb 01. Right: A sleeping great horned owl from Feb 02. Both drawn with Copic Markers.

What I read:

  • Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
  • A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
  • The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
  • I'm Worried by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator)
  • No Cats Allowed by Miranda James
  • Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê and Andie Tong (Illustrator)

What I'm reading:

  • The Thief Knot by Kate Milford and Jaime Zollars (Illustrator)
  • Five Unicorn Flush by T.J. Berry
  • The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
  • Spore by Alex Scarrow

Up Soon:

  • Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
  • Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers
  • School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Illustrator)

Comments  (20)


January 2020 Sources: 02/02/20

Previous month's book sources

January was illness month for all of us. I also had two art projects to finish on deadlines. I'm continuing (in a limited capacity) to check out library books.

ROOB Score for the last three years

I read sixteen TBR books, and six published in January. As it's a new year, there's no way to stay current with purchases without having a hit against the ROOB score. Twelve books were for research. Five were from the library. My ROOB score was higher by 1.17, which means a trend in the "wrong" but expected direction.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

At the start of 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. January 2020 was the in the middle for January ROOB scores since I started tracking these metrics. February should trend downards slightly.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for January remained at -2.39.

Comments  (2)


Clean Getaway: 02/02/20

Clean Getaway

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile is about a family struggling with secrets and shame, coming together over an impromptu roadtrip. William "Scoob" Lamar and his dad had plans to St. Simons Island but the trip was canceled after he got in trouble at school. Now he's in a newly purchased Winnebago with his G'ma and he's left his cellphone at home.

G'ma at the wheel

Scoob's G'ma is white. She and Scoob's grandfather married as soon as it became legal to do so. Her trip with Scoob is an attempt to recreate the trip she and he took. The trip takes them past a number of Civil Rights landmarks. Each one, rendered beautifully by Dawud Anyabwile.

Like How to Avoid Extinction by Paul Acampora (2016) and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III and Jim Yellowhawk (illustrations) (2015), the grandparent / grandchild roadtrip is a means of exploring national history and family history. The road becomes the mentor.

Different, this time, is the fact that Ruby Lamar has taken William without her son's permission or knowledge. Near the end of the book, things escalate to the issuing of an Amber Alert. Clean Getaway, then is also like Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LaFleur (2018) but with more at stake.

Placement of Clean Getaway and three other novels on the road narrative spectrum

As the chart shows, Clean Getaway and the other three middle grade novels all sit on the road narrative spectrum, and fairly close to each other. Were I to re-read In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse I would probably re-classify it as a family (33) journey, rather than a marginalized (66) one.

Scoob and G'ma as a family are recapitulating the trip Ruby and her husband took in the late 1960s. Family and couple are interchangeable traveler types (33). As the route they take is motivated by Ruby's memories, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route they take is the Blue Highway, again to recapitulate the original journey (33). All together, Clean Getaway is the tale of a family traveling through uhoria via the Blue Highway (33CC33).

Five stars

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January 2020 Summary: 02/01/20

Reading report

January started off rough with illness but the back half was productive with painting, drawing, and reading. I have continued to use the library in limited fashion. I'm sticking to having one or two out a time. One book for full length and two for shorter, like picture books or graphic novels.

I read more books in January, 40, up from the previous months' 29. I made my my diverse reading goal. It wasn't as spectacular as previous months.

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. January's ratio of diverse and not diverse wasn't as good as previous months either, but it did meet the stated goal.

I now 2018, 2019, and 2020 read books to post on my blog. My reviews to post from 2018 is down to 23 from 25, and my 2019 books to review are down to 59 from 72. This year's books stand at 21 reviews still to post of the 40 books read.

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