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March 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: 2020-2021

Beat the Backlist 2020



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You Are Never Alone: 03/31/20

You Are Never Alone

You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim is a picture book about the interconnectedness of nature. It goes through different parts of nature and shows how one thing affects other things.

These examples are framed around a child who is feeling alone. They are taken on a journey through nature and the universe, showing how everything is ultimately tied together.

Soyeon Kim's illustrations are gorgeous. But the text, beyond the message of hope, hasn't stuck with me.

Three stars

Comments (0)


The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir: 03/30/20

The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir

The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by Jenifer Lewis is a raw and personal account of a career that spans the 1970s to present. The title comes from an overheard comment where one of her Blackish costars noted that over her career she had played the mother of so many different Black characters.

But this book is more than just a laundry list of every show she's played in — from Broadway to films to television. Instead it's a frank accounting of her struggles with being bipolar — and being undiagnosed for years. It's about how she compensated with sex and drinking and drugs.

Because of the timeframe of her career, it's also a depressing unfolding of AIDS — from the early days when people were dying of rare, unheard of diseases, through the vilification of gays because of how many men were wiped out, and to how AIDS changed the sexual landscape.

Five stars

Comments (0)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 30): 03/23/20

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

News:

The shelter in place has been extended until May 1st. The shopping situation is stabilizing. Things are easier to purchase but the stock isn't close to being what it had been in February.

So far everyone in my immediate family is still well but we've reached the point where each of us knows someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Through extended contacts, we also, sadly, know of people who have died.

Drawings I made:


To keep things simpler to post, I'm sharing one image of all the week's drawings. They're all done with copic markers.

Paintings worked on:

I have opened an Etsy store. Right now there are eight paintings available. I haven't updated the store to add newly completed ones. If you've seen something posted and want to buy it, email me. I am also open for commissions. Prices are by size of canvas.

Pasta
Pasta is now finished. It's an acrylic painting on a 6x6 canvas. It's available for purchase.

Casa del Capitan
La Casa del Capitan is also complete. This one was a commission for my aunt.

Sandhill crane landscape
I'm now 5 hours into painting this 16x20 sandhill crane landscape.

Quesadilla painting, wip
I'm 2 hours into this painting of a quesadilla.

Quesadilla painting, wip
I'm 2 hours into this painting of four chickens which I'm calling "The Choir."

What I read:

  • Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Home and Away by Candice Montgomery
  • Claws for Concern by Miranda James
  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino
  • The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy

What I'm reading:

  • Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
  • Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner
  • The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee
  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn

Up Soon:

  • Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim
  • Grand Theft Horse by G. Neri and Corban Wilkin (Illustrations)
  • We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian
  • Delicious in Dungeon Volume 5 by Ryoko Kui

Comments  (14)


The Saturdays: 03/29/20

The Saturdays

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright is the start of The Melendy Family series. For whatever reason, this series has suddenly become popular again with middle grade readers and the hold lists for each book can be months long!

Like the timeless Penderwick sisters, The Melendy siblings are a tight-knit group of freethinkers, given a lot of leeway with their time because their father is a widower. Unlike the Penderwicks, they also are well enough off to have a housekeeper in their employ, matronly Mrs. Cuff.

Typically the children spend their Saturdays together doing things as a group but with such diverse interests they're having trouble deciding on things to do. So they compromise and decide to pool their money and let each kid take a day to do what they want.

The remaining chapters are primarily each child's adventure and how things go wrong. No Melendy is really up to the task of being alone. Their single minded ideas are universally bad ones.

After having read the first in the series I'm still not sure what the newfound hype is. The book has the same twee earnestness as The Good Witch. It's chock full of nauseating white wholesomeness and corresponding racism.

For instance, one of the youngest children goes across town to a black neighborhood to get her hair and nails done. Of course her trip is fraught with the perception of danger. (But nothing actually happens because she's "lucky.") Later she feels ashamed and is shamed by her family for her new hairdo and manicure.

The second book in this four part series is The Four-Story Mistake (1942)

Two stars

Comments (0)


Mañanaland: 03/28/20

Mañanaland

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a Latinx middle grade novel that walks a fine line between realistic fiction and fantasy. Maximiliano Córdoba has grown up on his abuelo's stories (or Buelo) as he calls him. From those stories his learned important family and local history lessons, ones he will come to rely on when he's called to stand in for his father.

The set up of Max's world and story reminds me of the first episode of Las Leyendas (2017), except that Max remains grounded in his world and the stories he's grown up with don't manifest into an otherworldly adventure. Nor is Lola, his faithful Portuguese water dog, an alebrije.

Instead, the landscape of fictional Santa Maria and the land around it is built from places and snippets of history familiar to any San Diegan. The author resides in North County (the area outside of San Diego's city limit) and as an ex-San Diegan I could easily picture the key features of our shared landscape that informed and inspired that of Mañanaland's.

While Max is waiting for his family to find the paperwork to prove he's not too old to play on the village's fútbol team, he learns some of his personal history. He learns that his life is tied directly to the stories and songs Buelo has taught him. He also learns more about his missing mother and comes to believe he has the clue he needs to find her.

Max's chance to learn his personal story and possibly find his mother comes in the form of a young girl, Isadora. She is traveling to reunite with her sister. She and her sisters survived abuse at the hand of their caretaker. They are reuniting in a place known only as "Mañanaland," the same place Max believes his mother has gone to.

Taken realistically, Mañanaland is a euphemism for a refugee safe country. Where it is, is immaterial. Max's story is framed around those who stay behind to help those who can't.

Max's journey with Isadora is also constructed within the road narrative spectrum. Max as a child on his first escorting mission and Isadora as a refugee are both marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is by any other name, uhoria (CC). Mañanaland, a portmanteau of the Spanish word for tomorrow and the English word land, is a poetic way of saying somewhere else, reachable sometime in the future. Their route, while marked by roads and bridges, is actually off road (66). They are forced into the river. They go through tunnels. They cross a lake or some other body of water as Isadora is taken to the next stop towards her final destination. All together, then, Mañanaland is about marginalized travelers going to uhoria via an offroad route.

The Spanish edition of Mañanaland is scheduled for release in the fall. I am planning to re-read it in Spanish.

Five stars

Comments (2)


City of Orphans: 03/27/20

City of Orphans

City of Orphans by Avi is set in New York City in 1893, five years before the consolidation of the five boroughs. Maks Geless is a newsie, supporting his family by selling papers. He has Bruno and the Pug Ugly gang to contend with. He can usually avoid them but that all changes when he befriends an orphan girl who then beats up Bruno in self defense.

Meanwhile, Maks's sister is jailed, accused of stealing from a guest at the hotel where she works. Convinced that it's a con job, Maks does everything he can to free his sister, including hiring an ailing lawyer and decides to do one last trial pro bono.

It's a tightly plotted story with no character or scene being wasted. There are times when Maks's narration, talking right to reader, gets in the way of the flow.

For me, what kept me reading more than anything else was Willa's story. She's been living in an alley since her mother died and her father left her. She's street smart and brave in ways that Maks isn't.

Willa's story also puts this novel into the road narrative spectrum. She is an orphan traveler (FF) — and quite possibly a literal one. Her goal or destination is to find a new home (66). Her route is the Blue Highway — or put more precisely, the streets of New York. Put altogether, it's the tale of an orphan finding a new home via the Blue Highways.

Four stars

Comments (0)


Crush: 03/26/20

Crush

Crush by Svetlana Chmakova is the third in the Berrybrook Middle School series. This time it focuses on Jorge the biggest kid in school with a reputation for being scary. In reality he's shy and he tries to keep the real bullies at bay by intervening. And then he gets a crush on a girl who is already in a relationship.

Jorge, thankfully, knows about consent and even after admitting his crush keeps his distance. He lets her decide what to do. She has to pick between the shy big guy and the charismatic but manipulative one.

There is also the on-going clubs side plots. It's a chance to see previous characters again. The fourth book is more of a journal with sticker sheets and a short graphic novel story. It's called Diary and was released in 2019.

Five stars

Comments (0)


Death on the Page: 03/25/20

Death on the Page

Death on the Page by Essie Lang (pseudonym of Linda Wiken) is the second of the Castle Bookshop mysteries. Shelby Cox is expecting to be busy with an author signing at both Bayside Books locations. To further complicate things, the author will be staying overnight at the castle on Blye Island, and Shelby's aunt, Edie, is laid up with a knee injury.

The next morning after a successful book signing, the author is found dead at the bottom of a secret stairwell. Shelby doesn't want to investigate but she has questions. Did the fiancé do it? Did her agent? Was it another author?

Along with the author's death, the castle docents have noticed some items have gone missing. Mostly they are small things, and a sign that security isn't close to what it should be. But then there are also some important things missing — plans to the castle.

In the first book, Trouble on the Books there was a definite sense of place. The Thousand Islands were well established as were Alexandria Bay (the mainland) and Blye Island. This time little was done to further expand either fictional location. Shelby's going between mainland to island and to locations in both places was left to the reader's imagination and I feel that opportunities to world build were missed.

The nuts and bolts of the mystery though were well thought out. It is possible to discover the murderer before Shelby if one pays attention. It reminded me a little bit of Sticks & Scones by Diane Mott Davidson (2001).

As of writing this review, there is no word if a third book is planned. If there is, I will definitely read it.

Four stars

Comments (0)


I'm Worried: 03/24/20

I'm Worried

I'm Worried by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the third book in the I'm Bored series. The potato is worried. He's worried about everything. It's getting in the way of him enjoying life, or even functioning in life.

The potato's worry begins to rub off on the flamingo. There's a point where the two end up wrapping themselves up in bubblewrap. It might sound like a good idea, but the two soon realize it isn't.

Like I'm Sad (2018), I'm Worried gently leads the reader to the conclusion that it's okay to be worried. But it's also good to try things because even if bad things happen, things can get better.

Four stars

Comments (2)


Of Curses and Kisses: 03/23/20

Of Curses and Kisses

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon is the first of the St. Rosetta's Academy series. Set in Colorado at an exclusive boarding school, it's a modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Princess Jaya Rao and her sister are attending. She's a senior. Her sister is a sophomore. Jaya is there to break a boy's heart, in revenge for what his family has done to hers.

Grey Emerson is the last in the line of a family who had wronged Jaya's family. He has been raised to believe his life will end on the morning of his eighteenth birthday. Jaya's arrival is the first sign that the curse is true and playing out as expected.

While many of the Beauty and the Beast connections are metaphorical, there are scenes are homages to Disney's 1995 version. I haven't seen their newer remake, so I can't comment if there are scenes in the novel that take inspiration from it.

Jaya and Grey's relationship as it progresses from rivals, to friends, to a couple, also places the novel in the bounds of the road narrative spectrum. From the parallel structure of their narratives, it's clear from the very first pages that they will be a couple (33). Thus together they are the travelers.

Their destination is uhoria (CC). For Jaya, initially, the goal is undo the harm done to her family by Grey's family. She is looking towards the past. Grey, meanwhile, is hoping against hope of having a future. If the curse is true, life ends for him in December. If he can break the curse, then he can have a future. Both of them are focused on time oriented goals, thus uhoria is their destination.

The route they take is the labyrinth (99). The labyrinth is a transformative journey, one with no blind alleys and little danger. The danger these two face is in the form or rumors and in the jealousy of other people in their lives. The curse, in the form of a nursery rhyme Grey has grown up with, is the itinerary of their journey. The falling rubies from Jaya's pendant mark the journey's progress.

All together, Of Curses and Kisses, is about a couple traveling to uhoria via a labyrinth (33CC99). The second book in the series is Of Princes and Promises. It releases on January 12, 2021.

Five stars

Comments (0)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 23): 03/23/20

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

News:

Now our entire state is on shelter in place. It's looking very likely that the June graduation trip will be cancelled. Our July travel plans are also uncertain. The AP (advanced placement) tests will be abbreviated and offered online. But we remain in good spirits at home.

Drawings I made:


To keep things simpler to post, I'm sharing one image of all the week's drawings. They're all done with copic markers.

Paintings worked on:

I have opened an Etsy store. Right now there are eight paintings available. I haven't updated the store to add newly completed ones. If you've seen something posted and want to buy it, email me. I am also open for commissions. Prices are by size of canvas.

Jellyfish
The jellyfish is now finished. I will be offering it for sale.

Nectarines
The nectarines are also finished and will be for sale on Etsy.

Sandhill crane landscape
I'm now 4 hours into painting this 16x20 sandhill crane landscape.

Pasta wip
I'm 3 hours into this 6x6 painting of pasta.

What I read:

  • Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
  • Flowers and Foul Play by Amanda Flower
  • Death on the Page by Essie Lang
  • In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow

What I'm reading:

  • Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Home and Away by Candice Montgomery
  • The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee
  • The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy

Up Soon:

  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino
  • Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner
  • Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn

Comments  (18)


Prince in Disguise: 03/22/20

Prince in Disguise

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm is a YA rom-com that is set in Scotland in the midst of wedding planning and a reality television show.

Dylan is the younger sister of former Miss Mississippi, Dusty. She and her family are in Scotland as part of a reality television show that is recording the behind the scenes of the royal wedding between Dusty and laird-to-be Ronan. As he has direct ties to the Scottish royal family, there is a lot for Dylan to learn on this trip, and she wants nothing to do with any of it.

Meanwhile, Dylan has caught the eye Jamie. He's the ne'er-do-well friend of Ronan. He's a nice distraction from the cameras, dress fittings, and wedding planning.

It's obvious from the title what's really going on, even if it isn't obvious for Dylan. It's fun to see her fall in love and then have the big reveal. It's also fun to have this extra fictional leeway with alternate Scotland. It was frankly more fun than squeezing in another Luxembourg sized fictional kingdom in Europe to make this plot work.

Five stars

Comments (0)


Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over: 03/21/20

Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over

Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over by Seanan McGuire is the start of Gwen's college career on the Earth where Peter Parker is alive and working as a T.A. She can travel to this world with a pendant and her blood.

So with two New Yorks, there's a Fringe vibe. It's fun to see how Gwen's Earth differs from Peter's. Peter's seems to be closer to ours, save for all the superheroes. Gwen repeated notes how odd she finds it that people there "don't look up" when she's swinging. New Yorkers there have gotten completely blasé in the presence of superheroes.

For this volume much of the plot is world building, or world comparing. Gwen has to learn how stabilize herself when she crosses into Peter's Earth. She has to figure out how to blend in and how to do her homework. She has to rely on a watch because she doesn't have a cross-demential cellphone plan (if one even exists).

There's of course a lot of backstory not included but hinted at. Seanan McGuire makes the current plot compelling and drops enough clues to fill in the most important blanks. The book also includes the list of volumes that come before (and their ISBNs) for anyone interested in a more thorough read.

Volume 2 released on August 4th, 2020.

Four stars

Comments (0)


The Emerald City of Oz: 03/20/20

The Emerald City of Oz

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum is the sixth and final book of the original core story arc. It's the point where Baum with his failing health wanted to call it quits but was later persuaded by fans and publisher to write eight more as well as a collection of short stories.

This novel breaks with traditional children's fantasy series in that Dorothy's aunt and uncle as they are days away from losing their farm to foreclosure, are invited to move to the Emerald City by Ozma herself. Typically at the end of a series, the child traveler is too old to continue exploring the alternate world and either is pushed out by failing magic or grows up enough to believe that visiting a fantasy land is too childish.

The Emerald City of Oz is unusual for another reason: it has parallel plots between Dorothy and her aunt and uncle, and the Nome King's attempted invasion of Oz via a tunnel.

For this post, I'm going to focus on Dorthy and her family because it uses the tropes of the memoir road trips that were just starting to come into vogue with the advent of the automobile and the planning of the first transcontinental freeway, the Lincoln Highway.

When Henry and Em have trouble adjusting to life in the palace, Ozma suggests that they take their buggy, a small entourage, and go on a tour of Oz. That sounds good, but they end up being the stereotypical rude road-trippers who treat the small towns they visit as their tourist destinations.

Their half of the story, which in page count is really more like two-thirds of the book, fits low in the road narrative spectrum. It's a unique placement for a fantasy series book. The travelers is Dorothy and her family (33). The destination is a tour of utopia, aka Oz (FF). They take the paved roads of Oz which given the pre-interstate time period for this book, would be prototype Blue Highways (33). All together, The Emerald City of Oz is the tale of a family on a road trip through utopia via the Blue Highway (33FF33).

Five stars

Comments (0)


Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4: 03/19/20

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4 by Ryoko Kui brings to a conclusion the initial search for Laios's sister. At the beginning of the series she was eaten by a dragon. Resurrection magic is common in the dungeon — that's been established over the previous volumes. But her revival is an extreme one and one that leaves the other party members wondering if it was the right decision and if she's still the same person.

Besides the reunion, volume four includes questions about the very nature of the dungeon. What is driving the big monsters (like the dragon) out of their usual floors? What is upsetting the balance of the dungeon?

Chart showing the progression across the road narrative spectrum through the four volumes. Click for a larger image

As with previous volumes, volume four sits on the road narrative spectrum. With the reunion, the travelers become siblings (CC). Sure the other party members are still present, but for this volume, the focus is on the brother and sister dynamic.

The destination is uhoria (CC). It's in the extraordinary and possibly dangerous resurrection magic. It's in the shared memories of times before the dragon. It's in the hope to have things return to how they were before.

The route is the maze (CC). The dungeon is dangerous and it's becoming more so because it's not working as it has been. It's becoming an unpredictable and changeable space.

All together, volume four is a return and then an overshoot of the first volume. The manga started as the story of siblings through the city via the maze. The dungeon at that time seemed regular and predictable, but still dangerous (as evidenced by the sister eating dragon). Now at the end of this initial arc, with the revelation of extraordinary magic, the siblings are at a more fantastical place then they started: uhoria, while still traveling through the maze.

Five stars

Comments (0)


Egg Drop Dead: 03/18/20

Egg Drop Dead

Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien is the fifth of the Noodle Shop mysteries. Lana Lee is catering an event for Donna. It should be an intimate dinner by the pool but after a screaming match one of her employees is found murdered. Donna is the prime suspect but Lana doesn't believe she's capable of murder.

While previous books in this series can stand alone, Egg Drop Dead builds on events in Wonton Terror (2019). Even if you don't want to start at the beginning, at least read book four.

The introduction explains how Vivien Chien's first writing success was a writing class. She wrote a detective fiction staring a woman similar to Lana. In this book she decided it would be fun for the two to meet.

The detective is obviously a professional but she's not the smooth operator one might expect. She's temperamental and condescending. She takes to calling Lana "Chickadee," which I personally found hilarious. Chickadees may be small but they are badass. I hope the detective becomes a reoccurring character. She was a delightful edition.

The sixth book is Killer Kung Pao and will be released on August 25, 2020.

Five stars

Comments (0)


Freezer I'll Shoot: 03/17/20

Freezer I'll Shoot

Freezer I'll Shoot by Victoria Hamilton is the third of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries. It's late summer and Jaymie Leighton is on Heartbreak Island to fix up the cottage's plumbing before the annual family dinner. This year is complicated by the inclusion of Daniel and his parents.

Across the way from where the new leech field will go, is Ruby and Garnet's house. They run the Ice House restaurant, built in what once was the island's ice house. After a public tiff in the restaurant with the co-owner of the American side pier, he's found dead in land between two cottages.

Like Queensville (the mainland city where Jaymie lives full time), Heartbreak Island is fictional. It's an island in the St. Clair River and like real world Point Roberts, Washington, it has the US/Canadian border running right through a small piece of land. With recent changes in border crossing rules (namely the need for a passport and official checkpoints), the very nature of the island is changing. (See also my review of Notorious by Gordon Korman.

The tighter border enforcement is taking its toll on the local economy. It's also drawing a divide between islanders and townies. The suspects are a mixture of both, but all have been negatively affected by the changes. Tensions are high and nerves are raw.

The mystery is kept interesting by a strong sense of place and an understanding of what border life is like. An observant reader will figure out the timeline of events and the reason behind the murder.

The next book is No Mallets Intended (2013).

Five stars

Comments (0)


Leah on the Offbeat: 03/16/20

Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is the sequel / companion piece to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. This one is told from Leah's point of view and takes place during senior year.

Leah is a refreshing protagonist for two reasons. The first is that's fat but her size isn't a major (or minor) plot point. The second is that she's bi and not confused about this realization.

While her being bi is the major plot motivation, her conflict isn't one of personal distaste or confusion. Instead it's a two fold problem. First, she's basically closeted at school because her only crushes so far have been boys. Second, her latest crush, she believes is straight. Actually, so does her crush.

The crush is Abby. If you've read The Upside of Unrequited, you'll understand why Abby might be questioning her own sexuality. If you haven't, the details you need to understand where she's coming from and what she's going through are here in this novel.

The set up for the big conflict/ reveal comes in the form of a road trip. Abby and Leah go together to college orientation. It's there, while sharing a room, that Abby reveals (in a roundabout way) that she also has feelings for Leah. However, she's not as centered in her understanding of her sexuality as Leah is and that causes the conflict for the final third of the novel.

The road trip side plot puts this novel into the road narrative spectrum at 330033, or a couple going to the city via the Blue Highway.

Four stars

Comments (0)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 16): 03/16/20

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

News:

The schools are closed for three weeks. My husband is working from home for the next month. The art shows I have paintings in are delayed. My daughter's eighth grade trip might not happen in June. I think I'm most upset right now about her trip. Then there's our 25th wedding anniversary roadtrip. It should be happening in July but who knows?

Drawings I made:


To keep things simpler to post, I'm sharing one image of all the week's drawings. They're all done with copic markers.

Paintings worked on:

I have opened an Etsy store. Right now there are eight paintings available but I will be adding more. I can also take commissions.

Fern
The fern is now finished.

Jellyfish wip
The jellyfish WIP; I'm four hours into this project.

Casa del Capitan
La Casa del Capitan WIP; I'm four hours into this project.

Sandhill crane landscape
I've started a new sandhill crane painting. This one is 16x20 inches.

Nectarines wip
Yesterday I started this 6x6 nectarine painting.

What I read:

  • We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over by Seanan McGuire and Takeshi Miyazawa (Illustrator)
  • Shot in the Dark by Cleo Coyle
  • A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
  • Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
  • Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley

What I'm reading:

  • Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
  • In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow
  • Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Home and Away by Candice Montgomery

Up Soon:

  • The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee
  • The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy
  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino
  • Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner

Comments  (16)


This is London: 03/15/20

This is London

This is London by Miroslav Sasek is the second of the This is... picture book series. It's a snapshot of London of the late 1950s.

It covers all the big, well known parts of the city: the monuments, Piccadilly Circus, the black taxicabs, the Underground, the Horse Guards, and so forth. If you read the more recently released edition (2004), you can read the appendix that includes comments on what has changed over the years.

The biggest change is London's relative size. For much of the city's history it was the largest or in the top five of largest cities in the world. But the truth is, London after more than a millennium has run out of space. Other newer (and "New World") have since pushed London far down the list of largest city.

But as someone who first saw London in just snippets in 2015, I can say that Sasek's London is still there among all the changes over the years.

Five stars

Comments (0)


We Unleash the Merciless Storm: 03/14/20

We Unleash the Merciless Storm

We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire (2019). While the first book was from Dani's point of view, this one is from Carmen's point of view.

Dani and Carmen had gone to school together to learn how to be wives to the elite men, the leaders, of Medio. Dani had garnered the top spot as the Primera. Carmen was the Segunda. As the wives of Mateo they had specific, divided duties and roles, but very little in the way of personal freedom.

Over the course of the book the two wives fall in love. Carmen, a soldier for the resistance gets Dani to join. But at the opening of We Unleash the Merciless Storm, Carmen and Dani are separated. Carmen is back with La Voz and Dani is still with Mateo.

Much of this second volume is Carmen's attempt, against orders, to reunite with Dani. She wants to get back over the wall and rescue Dani. In the meantime, though, she has to lie about her feelings. She also begins to doubt herself as person after person tells her that Dani will be loyal to Mateo.

Carmen's flight and fight to get back to Dani and to bring her to safety places the novel into the road narrative spectrum, just as the first book was. Let's compare.

Chart showing the opposite end placement of the two books. Click for a larger version.

The first book sits at the realistic end of the spectrum. Their status as wives and then a couple sets the placement (33). Their destination is also realistic — the city (00). But their route is the maze (CC) as the city is complex and the rules for wives in society and home are complicated. Thus the first book is 3300CC.

The sequel, though, swings to the other end of the spectrum by separating the two. Carmen is separated from the woman she loves and choses to separate herself from La Voz. Effectively, she becomes an orphan traveler (FF). Her destination is home (66) — meaning literally her ex-home with Mateo and Dani. And it's figurative, meaning the home she wants to create just with Dani. Her route is offroad (66). She goes into the ocean, through a tunnel, through a forest, and all manner of other offroad routes. All together, this conclusion is the tale of an orphan going home via an offroad route (FF6666).

Five stars

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Turtle Under Ice: 03/13/20

Turtle Under Ice

Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario is a parallel narrative told in free form verse. The two voices are sisters: Rowena, the younger one, and Ariana, the older.

Ariana has gone missing, leaving on a personal mission to clear her head after the miscarriage her stepmother suffered. Rowena, meanwhile, is stuck at home with parents who have stopped functioning in their grief. No one is shopping for groceries. No one is doing the dishes. And neither of them seem to have noticed Ariana's absence.

Although Ariana takes a bus trip to a different city to see a friend and to have her painting displayed in an art show, her literal journey isn't what puts this novel onto the road narrative spectrum. Nor is Rowena's journey to find her sister — done after some sleuthing with her best friend.

Instead, it's a meta journey shared by the sisters and expressed through Ariana's painting, also titled "Turtle Under Ice." The painting is her recreation of a memory she and her sister share of their dead mother. It's the moment of sharing a memory that brings the two together, back in balance.

Put in terms of the RNS, the travelers are the sisters (CC), even though they do most of the journeying separately. Their destination is uhoria (CC) — namely their shared memories of their mother and the time when they were closer. The route taken is an offroad (66), one depicted in Ariana's painting, and one hinted at by the title of both the novel and the painting.

Four stars

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BLAME! MASTER EDITION 1: 03/11/20

BLAME! MASTER EDITION 1

BLAME! MASTER EDITION 1 by Tsutomu Nihei is the first omnibus in a six volume manga series. This volume is nearly wordless especially for the first half. It follows Kyrii as he climbs upwards through the levels of a city so large and old that no one remembers what land is or even the city's history.

The architecturally centered artwork reminds me of Girls' Last Tour (少女終末旅行) but at a time when there are more than just a handful of people left. There are also robots and cyborgs and these take the role of vengeful spirits, hunting for humans and fighting amongst themselves.

Kyrii in his climb is looking for humans who have the Net Terminal Gene. Presumably he wants or needs it to access the computer or AI left running the city unchecked. Anyone else, anyone not human, he kills using a rare graviton beam emitter.

While this is a Japanese work, it, like many Japanese pieces I've read or watched, fits into the road narrative spectrum.

Looking at Kyrii as a traveler, his aloneness and his ability to travel through different distinct areas despite the danger, implies that he is an orphan (FF).

The vast, potentially Earth sized, city, is something beyond the ken of the present or past landscape. Although the area covered is on Earth, it is an unrecognizable, unknown landscape. More broadly speaking, Kyrii's destination is utopia (FF).

While the landscape he's traveling through is known as a city, the vastness of it and the way it is constantly changing makes the route a maze (CC). The changes come through decay, through war between different groups, and from automatic processes left unattended. The maze, too, reflects the danger

Kyrii is facing while traveling.

All together, BLAME! MASTER EDITION 1 by Tsutomu Nihei is an orphan's tale through utopia via an ever changing maze (FFFFCC).

Five stars

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Arsenic and Old Books: 03/11/20

Arsenic and Old Books

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James is the sixth of the Cat in the Stacks mysteries. Mayor Lucinda Beckwith Long has donated a set of Civil War diaries to the archives of Athena College. She believes they will be a benefit to her son Beck as he runs for state senate. Before Charlie can even begin working on the diaries, they're stolen. And then the thief is murdered.

When the diaries are returned, Charlie hopes their contents can give a clue to the reason they were taken and why someone else would kill for them. As Charlie reads through them and interviews the people most vested in the diaries, he also solves the mystery of two deaths recorded in them.

If you know anything about heavy metals, you'll be able to solve the cold case before Charlie does. The clues are all there. The present day murder is also well laid out, though not as obviously so.

The seventh book is No Cats Allowed (2016).

Five stars

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Notorious: 03/10/20

Notorious

Notorious by Gordon Korman is set on another fictional border island shared by Michigan and Ontario, or more broadly, the USA and Canada. Like Queensville, MI, of the Vintage Kitchen mystery series, Centerville/Centreville island exists on the St Clair River. This time, though, it's roughly Stag Island (wholly part of Ontario) standing in for this fictional place.

This time, the fictional island with the border running through it, is a chance to reflect on international travel and international living in a time when even with a passport, travel across arbitrary lines isn't always possible. On either side of the border there are two tweens who are forming an unlikely friendship.

On the Michigan side there is Keenan. He has been sent to his father's house to recover from tuberculosis. He's used to a life in international school and living in dozens of different countries. The world had been his backyard and now he's stuck on a small island, in a small backyard while he's ordered to get about ten hours of fresh air.

On the Ontario side, there is ZeeBee. She's the only kid her age, meaning she's riding the ferry to Corunna with a bunch of little kids while all the kids her age are going to school on the island because they're American. Her father works for the Canada Border Services Agency, but mostly as a part-time lighthouse keeper.

Now imagine the island's history. Imagine a perfect entry point/hideaway for prohibition era gangsters. Imagine local lore about hidden gold.

Finally imagine a dog that only ZeeBee could love. Imagine that even after his death he's notorious. Everyone on the island, it seems, has a tale about something horrible the dog did.

That's the set up for a middle grade mystery that has a set up similar to Victoria Gilbert's Blue Ridge Library mystery series. There's a historical mystery and a modern day one. The two are connected but neither will be solved unless Keenan and ZeeBee can mend their friendship.

The how Keenan and ZeeBee finally come together to solve the mystery is framed in the road narrative spectrum. As both are tweens and both are oddballs among their peers, they are marginalized travelers (66). As the modern day mystery is tied to the historic one, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route they take is offroad (66), through forests and over hills. All together the mystery is solved by two marginalized (children) travelers to uhoria via an offroad route (66CC66).

Five stars

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Akata Warrior: 03/09/20

Akata Warrior

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor is the sequel to Akata Witch. It's been a year since American born Sunny Nwazue was inducted into the Leopard Society. Now she is being called into action to save the world from apocalypse.

Sunny teams up with her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha to go on a road trip that starts conventionally and ends supernaturally. They must travel across the country and across worlds.

Where the first book was confined within the bounds of Sunny's new town and her immediate neighborhood, this one expands outwards and westward. The magic Sunny is learning to harness alongside her friends is re-contextualized against the greater Nigerian landscape.

Okorafor has taken the road narrative conventions and reapplied them to draw the reader into a tale that is recognizable and serves as a gateway into Nigerian culture and folklore.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, Sunny and her friends are scarecrows (99) — meaning protectors. Their entire journey is based around protecting their home, their country, their world. Their final destination is Osisi, a town that resides in another dimension, or on the other side, a spirit realm. As such it is a utopia, or no place, (FF). The route they take is a combination of highway and offroad, with the final route being the offroad one (66). Thus it's the tale of scarecrows going to utopia via an offroad route (99FF66).

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 09): 03/09/20

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

Drawings I made:


To keep things simpler to post, I'm sharing one image of all the week's drawings. They're all done with copic markers.

Paintings worked on:

I have opened an Etsy store. Right now there are four paintings available but I will be adding more. I can also take commissions.

Etsy
I've added four new paintings, ones I've shared on the blog in previous weeks.

Butternut soup and grilled cheese
Butternut soup and grilled cheese is now finished and for sale.

Moose grabbing an apple
Apple Moose is now finished.

Jellyfish wip
The jellyfish is a new WIP. I'm two hours into this project.

Fern wip
The fern is a new WIP. I'm also two hours into this project.

What I read:

  • Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
  • Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien
  • Turtle under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
  • White Colander Crime by Victoria Hamilton and Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
  • A Match Made in Heaven by Trina Robbins, Xian Nu Studio (Illustrator) and Yuko Ota (Illustrator)
  • Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (Illustrator)

What I'm reading:

  • We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
  • Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
  • In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow

Up Soon:

  • Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Home and Away by Candice Montgomery
  • Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over by Seanan McGuire and Takeshi Miyazawa (Illustrator)
  • The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy

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All Ducks Are Birds: But, Not All Birds Are Ducks: 03/08/20

All Ducks Are Birds: But, Not All Birds Are Ducks

All Ducks Are Birds: But, Not All Birds Are Ducks by Tara Michele Zrinski is a children's picture book that introduces children to the ideas of categorizing while discussing different kinds of birds. The title is the start of an on going Socratic discussion of birds and the grouping of things.

Along with the dialog there are the author's illustrations of various kinds of birds. They are realistic and charming. They appear to be in a mixture of watercolor and color pencil. Possibly watercolor pencil.

I read the book in preparation for a summer art camp. For my camp, I could expand the discussion to all birds are dinosaurs but not all dinosaurs were birds.

While it's important to understand how to organize things, or how to think about organizing things, sometimes the next seemed too strict. The book at times reads more like a lecture than a child friendly introduction to logic.

Four stars

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Paladin's Grace: 03/07/20

Paladin's Grace

Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher is set in the same world as the Clocktaur duology (Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine. But it's a standalone — a delightful, intriguing, and horrifying one.

There is nothing wasted in this book. The title itself is a double entendre. First there's Stephen, a paladin for the Saint of Steel — a god who died three years earlier. Stephen, one of the few paladins to survive the blowback is now graceless. Second, there is Grace, a perfume maker. She and Stephen in their own delightfully goofy way fall in love, and thus she becomes the Paladin's Grace.

In the background of this awkward but mutually respectful and adult romance is a murder spree. Someone is leaving just the decapitated heads of their victims. It serves as the reason why Grace and Stephen meet but it's not the central focus of the novel. Not exactly.

Just, though, when it seems like the novel is going to settle into being a rom-com in a fantasy setting the novel changes tone and switches into being a legal drama. Grace is accused of attempted murder and her perfume recipes are confiscated as evidence.

Romance and legal drama and fantasy and a serial murder of the type that would show up on Criminal Minds. Seriously this book is tailor made for me. Without giving away spoilers, all these separate plot elements come together in an organic and believable fashion. The resolution to attempted poisoning is well plotted and satisfying. The resolution to the murder spree is equally tight and completely horrifying.

Five stars

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The Dollar Kids: 03/06/20

The Dollar Kids

The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson begins with the shooting death of a best friend, told through the panels of a comic the two teens had been working on. It then moves to prose and becomes the story of a family winning the chance to move into a home of their own for a dollar. It's in a small, failing town, and along with fixing up the house, they also have to start a business in the town.

Besides Lowen Grover's family, there are other families also brought on board for this dollar house scheme. There's a lottery to see which family gets which house. The Grovers, having arrived late, don't have time to check out the houses in person but end up with what on papers looks like the best: it's the largest. But it's also next to a funeral home.

The bulk of the book, though, is a slow burn. It's detailed and in depth. If you're completely invested in the characters it will probably go quickly. For me, it did not. I found myself needing to power through the middle as there was just too many mundane details to focus on.

The book, does, however, sit on the road narrative spectrum. The travelers are the families (33) who have bought these dollar homes. The destination for all of them is a new (albeit run down, moldy, and in need of serious repair) home (66). The route there is the Blue Highway (33) as the town is one of the smaller, older, and probably bypassed by the interstate system, towns. Altogether, this is a novel about families hoping to find their homes after a journey along the Blue Highway (336633)

Three stars

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Akissi: Tales of Mischief: 03/05/20

Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet collects issues 1-3. This English translation of the comic was sent to me in error last year with some Cybils books.

Akissi is a child living in an unnamed West African village. The typical gag in these comics show Akissi being given a task by an adult, or deciding she's going to do something, running into trouble, trying to fix the problem, reporting back home having completely failed or completely gotten into trouble.

The blurb promises adventure, mischief, and silliness. Maybe that's the case for the original audience, but for me as a reader in California the humor doesn't translate. The initial fish being eaten by cats gag was vaguely humorous. The pet monkey gag — first trying to keep it as a pet and failing terribly at it — to the neighbors wanting to eat it, fell completely flat for me.

After the monkey comic I skipped around to read other comics in the book. None of them managed to make me crack a smile. The gags become formulaic. If it didn't work on me the first time, it isn't going to work the second or seventh time.

Two stars

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The Killings at Badger's Drift: 03/04/20

The Killings at Badger's Drift

The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham is the first of seven mysteries in the Chief Inspector Barnaby mystery series. It's also the title of the first episode of the long running show, Midsomer Murders. I mention the show because it was my introduction to the books.

In Badger's Drift, there's a rare orchid and two elderly ladies have been going head to head to spot occurrences of it. Miss Emily Simpson has the honor of finding it this year (1987 in the book, 1997 in the television show). She has the misfortune of spotting "something nasty" (to borrow the phrase from Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932) in a nearby copse. What she sees leads to her being followed and murdered in her home later the same day.

Miss Lucy Bellringer, her rival and long time friend, believes in her heart of hearts that Miss Simpson was murdered. Sure, she spends much of her free time reading mysteries, but she also knows her friend. It's up to her to convince C.I. Barnaby to open up an investigation before her death is ruled natural causes.

Both versions of this mystery are complex with lengthy side plots and backstories that drive the original and subsequent murders. Although, the television version has one more murder than Graham's version. The book, though, spends an uncomfortably long time setting everything up, rather than mixing the past into the present investigation.

I decided to read the source material to see if the sex obsession was canonical or added for the benefit of the teleplay. I can now say that it's canonical, although somewhat different. The biggest difference is with the undertaker, Dennis Rainbird and his mother, Iris. His sexual activities are squickier in the book in that besides being gay, is quite possibly in an incestuous relationship with his mother. On the other hand, he's the extra victim in the television adaptation. Of course, given the main plot, what's one more incestuous relationship? That's the sexual deviation topic for this volume.

The second book is Death of a Hollow Man (1989) which was adapted into the third episode of the first series in 1998.

Four stars

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I'm Sad: 03/03/20

I'm Sad

I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the sequel to I'm Bored (2012). This one focuses on the emotional wellbeing of the flamingo who is feeling sad.

More broadly, the flamingo is probably depressed. He expresses concern over always feeling sad. He worries that his friends won't like him if he continues to be sad tomorrow.

The girl and the potato do their best to cheer up the flamingo. The girl's approach is similar to her anti-boredom one, namely, playing pretend. The potato's approach, meanwhile, is more down to earth (pun intended).

Ultimately, though, what helps is a shared inside joke and the reassurance that they will still like the flamingo if he continues to feel sad. He decides knowing he'll still have friends is enough to feel a little better, even while he's still somewhat sad.

Four stars

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Marriage of Unconvenience: 03/02/20

Marriage of Unconvenience

Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron is a f/f romance that starts with one friend helping out another. Lauren "Lo" Bowman needs money for rent. She's lost her job and she has bills to pay. She has a trust fund but can only use it if she's married.

Enter long time friend, Cara, who needs money for grad school. There's nothing in the trust fund rules that forbids a same-sex marriage. So why not do a fake marriage and fix both problems at once?

But let's face it, getting engaged and planning a wedding can be fun. It's romantic. It leads to fluttery feelings. Will it lead to love?

Of course it will. This is a romance! And it's a delightfully upbeat one. It's low on drama and high on warm fuzzy feelings.

Four stars

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February 2020 Sources: 03/02/20

Previous month's book sources

February was back to normal except for preparing for our new puppy. Also I was busy setting up my Etsy shop.

ROOB Score for the last three years

Like January, I read sixteen TBR books. I also read five published in February. As it's still early in the year, there's no easy way to stay current with purchases without having a hit against the ROOB score. Five books were for research. Eight were from the library. My ROOB score was slightly lower but by an insignificant amount (-2.38 vs January's -2.31).

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

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

ROOB monthly averages

My average for February increased slightly from -2.45 to -2.44.

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

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

Coraline:

10 week old English lab

The big news this week is that we picked up our puppy today. She's a ten week old English labrador. We've named her Coraline. She's full of energy and already learning the basic commands of sit and stay.

Drawings I made:


Left: A bunch of bananas (Feb 23). Right: Lavender in bloom (Feb 24)


Left: The Adventures of Zollstrasse (a bird ina trench coat and Fedora) (Feb 25). Right: Flamingo (Feb. 26). Both drawn with Copic Markers.


Left: Turkey inspector (Feb 27). Right: Orange wildflower (Feb 28).


Left: Pencil eraser (Feb 29). Right: Self portrait with Coraline (English lab puppy) (Mar 01).

Paintings worked on:

I have opened an Etsy store. Right now there are four paintings available but I will be adding more. I can also take commissions.

Etsy
Current listings.

Butternut soup and grilled cheese
Butternut soup and grilled cheese after 3 hours of work.

Casa del Capitan
Casa del Capitan after 3 hours of work.

What I read:

  • Notorious by Gordon Korman
  • The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
  • The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
  • The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
  • The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Illustrator)
  • Death by Vanilla Latte by Alex Erickson
  • Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher

What I'm reading:

  • The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
  • Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien
  • Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire
  • Turtle under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

Up Soon:

  • Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
  • We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow
  • Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

Comments  (26)


If I Had a Little Dream: 03/01/20

If I Had a Little Dream

If I Had a Little Dream by Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillón is a picture book I read for the illustrations. The book description says it's a child's view of "how fortunate we are to live in the world we do." It's an accurate description and a good indicator of whether or not you'll like the book.

The text is a series of forced rhymes about the sorts of things you'd find in a a "Chicken Soup for the __________ Soul" picture book. These mini-poems are sugary wholesome and left me feeling woozy.

Melissa Castrillón's illustrations though are delightful. There's a whimsy to them that brings to mind the art style that was so popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But that sense of childhood nostalgia isn't enough to counteract the saccharine prose.

Two stars

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February 2020 Summary: 03/01/20

Reading report

February's time was divided evenly among getting ready for our puppy, painting (and setting up my business), and reading.

I read fewer books in February, 35, down from January's 40. I made my my diverse reading goal. It wasn't as spectacular as most of last year's months, but it was better than January's.

On the reviews front, I had an excellent month, with all but nine books qualifying.

I now have 2018, 2019, and 2020 read books to post on my blog. My reviews to post from 2018 is down to 21 from 23, and my 2019 books to review are down to 48 from 59. This year's books are at 33 of the 75 books read.

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