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June 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

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Descender, Volume 3: Singularities: 06/30/20

Descender, Volume 3: Singularities

Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen takes a step back from the current events to look at how all the characters came to be where they are.

While we've gotten Tim-21's history before, now we also get Tim-22's. Where 21 received love and a spot in the family as a second child, albeit a robotic one, 22 was purchased to be a caregiver to an angry, abusive elderly man. While 22's salvation is also from isolation, his stems from being ordered for months at a time to stay in the closet.

Besides the Tims, there is the back story for Telsa, the doctor, and the driller robot. These are robots who can and do break their programming. There are no laws of robotics at play here, meaning any robot can be dangerous.

Chart showing the progression of the Descender comics on the road narrative spectrum

As with the previous two volumes, Singularities sits on the road narrative spectrum. While there are multiple stories, multiple points of view, each of the stories can be summed up by this is the point where each one became an orphan. If they are orphans, they are orphan travelers (FF).

The destination for everyone is utopia (FF). The invasion, the destruction of vast civilizations across multiple planets results in an unknowable landscape. Together they have ended up on a planet that should not exist, but does.

The route they take is offroad. It's through space, it's through caves, and so forth. (66)

All together, volume three is the story of orphan travelers forced to go to utopia via offroad routes (FFFF66).

Volume four is Orbital Mechanics (2017).

Five stars

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A Song of Wraiths & Ruin: 06/29/20

A Song of Wraiths & Ruin

A Song of Wraiths & Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown is the start of a new fantasy series set in an alternate Africa that blends West African folklore and North African history. Malik and his two sisters are looking for a better life in the city state of Ziran. Meanwhile Karina, the princess and heir to the throne is suddenly faced with being the Sultana when her mother is assassinated on the night before the Solstasia festival, a multiple day event that restores the power of the barrier that keeps Ziran safe.

On Malik's first day in Ziran, having literally just arrived, he loses his youngest sister to Idir. To win her back, he must kill Karina. Things are complicated when Malik, under an assumed name, becomes the Champion of Adanko, the Goddess of Life, to compete in the Solstasia games.

Told in alternating points of view, we're given both sides of a complex world with a complex history. Through Malik we learn about the poverty, war, and famine that those outside of Ziran are suffering from. We see the great city through the eyes of a desperate immigrant. From Karina, we see a kingdom fraying at the edges. An apparent thriving metropolis has a dark history.

Of recent fantasies I've read, A Song of Wraiths & Ruin has some of the best world building I've seen. The world is revealed through organic means, with the characters living their lives, through story tellers at the festival, through the Solstasia games, through exploration, and so forth.

Together, Malik and Karina's journeys find placement on the road narrative spectrum. As Malik is serving as a champion and Karina is the sultana, they are both privileged travelers (00). Though they have different goals, both are influenced by Ziran's history, and thus their destination is uhoria (CC). The path they take is the maze because there are traps and dangers at every turn (CC). Altogether, the novel can be summarized as two privileged travelers going to uhoria via the maze (00CCCC).

The second book in the series, A Psalm of Storms & Silence is scheduled for release sometime in 2021.

Five stars

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Dragon Kiss: 06/28/20

Dragon Kiss

Dragon Kiss by E.D. Baker is the seventh in the Frog Princess series. Though set in the time of Princess Millie, this one is primarily told from the point of view of a young love-sick dragon named Audun.

Audun wishes to woo Princess Millie but do that he needs a way to be human some of the time, just as she can sometimes be a dragon. Audun is sent on a quest to ask the king of the Ice Dragons for the secret to transformation. Before he's taught, he is sent out on another set of quests.

Through Audun's quests Baker expands her world and the cultures of the dragons. She presents two distinct cultures as well as surrounding lands with enemies and allies. As an outsider, Audun's ignorance combined with his youthful gives him the fresh perspective needed for diplomacy.

The eighth book in the series is A Prince Among Frogs (2010).

Five stars

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Canadian Book Challenge: 2020-2021: 06/27/20

14th Canadian Book Challenge

July 1st, Canada Day, is also the starting day for the annual Canadian Books Challenge. It's been running for thirteen years and this fourteenth year will be the second year of it being hosted on the Canadian Bookworm blog.

I have been participating since 2009. While the official goal is to read thirteen (or one per province), my personal goal is 52 or more. That means posting at least one review of a Canadian book each week. My Canadian book review day is Tuesday.

Click here to see list of books reviewed.

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Outside In: 06/27/20

Outside In

Outside In by Deborah Underwood is a picture book about how we have separated ourselves from nature, the outside, and how nature continues to work its way into our lives. The protagonist is an unnamed child, shown being driven across the countryside to their home, and then their time spent inside as nature continues to beckon through windows and other means.

Through text and the watercolor illustrations by Cindy Derby show the interplay of human structures, machines, and nature, plants and animals. As nature begins to charm its way into the child's life, the illustrations begin to fill the page, the plants dominating and the colors becoming more saturated.

This narrative, like Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell (2017) and A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano (2018), sits in the orphan traveling home via the cornfield (FF66FF) spot on the road narrative spectrum.

Yes, a parent is shown in some scenes with the child, but the book is about nature's interaction with the child. Thus they are an orphan traveler. It is their decision to welcome nature into the home, to travel into nature.

As the child's interaction with nature is framed against the home, home is the destination. Where ever the child goes, home will be the place they return to. On a micro-scale, the child/home dynamic is the same as the marginalized traveler/rural town, where the goal is to escape the rural town.

The route is the cornfield. Or rather, the cornfield is the catch all for the plants of various times shown enticing the child out of their home. There is also the snail on the kale as a reminder of the farm, that demarkation between mankind and nature.

Five stars

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Spell & Spindle: 06/26/20

Spell & Spindle

Spell & Spindle by Michelle Schusterman is a middle grade horror about a boy who finds himself switched into the body of a full sized marionette, and the marionette who saves him with the help of his sister.

The story opens with a tale of a cabinetmaker and his apprentice. The cabinet maker builds a soul-stealing marionette and a collection of cabinets that could and did contain everything and anything. So complex were the cabinets one could become lost in them.

A screenshot from Courage the Cowardly Dog

In this introductory tale three tales are brought to mind: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1883), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and 100 Cupboards by ND Wilson. But on further reading, one is also reminded of the "The Great Fusilli" episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999)

At the opening, Chance and his father work at the Museum of Peculiar Arts. After years of dwindling ticket sales, the aging proprietor choses to close and Chance's parents see this change as their opportunity to escape the city for the suburbs. As a parting gift, Chance is given Penny, a life sized marionette.

From the alternating chapters, Schusterman gives insight into the minds of both Chance and Penny. Penny is not only live sized, she is also sentient, but trapped within the confines of her wooden body. Chance, also realizes that when he's physically touching Penny, he can hear her thoughts.

At the inclusion of a spindle, dropped off mysteriously one night, Chase and Penny trade places. Penny, though, before this event, has sworn that she is not a soul-stealing demon. She's not sure what she is (beyond being a marionette). While she enjoys her freedom at first (albeit it in the body of a teenage boy), she realizes she needs to undo the switch.

The journey to undo the body switch is framed within the context of the road narrative spectrum. Collectively Chase and Penny are the dual scarecrow and minotaur travelers (99). As their status changes over the course of the novel, so do their respective rolls, with each taking turns at being both.

As Chase's family (and thus Penny) have moved to the suburbs, and the answer to the switching problem is in the city they just left, the destination is the city (00).

The journey to the city is done via train (00). The plans Chance's sister makes bring to mind how Claudia and Jaimie ride the train into New York to live inside the museum in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg.

All together, Spell & Spindle is the tale of a scarecrow and minotaur traveling to the city on the train to undo a curse.

Five stars

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The Lost Carnival: 06/25/20

The Lost Carnival

The Lost Carnival by Michael Moreci is a standalone YA graphic novel set in Wyoming some time before the tragedy that kills Dick Grayson's parents. The carnival isn't making the ticket sales like it used to. Dick feels that the routines have gotten stale. The ringmaster believes that the blame falls on a competing carnival.

Within the rival carnival setting, a friendship and then romance blossoms between Dick and Luciana, the niece of the illusionist, Caliban. The set up of star-crossed lovers from rival carnivals brings to mind Romeo and Juliet, but with a supernatural twist.

The graphic novel uses color to reinforce the narrative. Monochromatic blues, yellows, and reds inform the reader of place, character, and timeline. These artistic choices are off-putting at first but make sense against the larger tableau of the tale of the rise and fall of the Lost Carnival.

Four stars

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Riviera Gold: 06/24/20

Riviera Gold

Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King is the thirteenth mystery in the Mary Russell series. It follows on the events of Island of the Mad (2018) and The Murder of Mary Russell (2016). Mary and Sherlock, still masquerading as Sheldon Russell, have split up; Sherlock is off to Romania and Mary takes the offer to sail to Monaco from Venice.

Mary's expecting a nice time on the beach to read, to relax, and to take time away from being a consulting detective. On her first afternoon there, she's shocked to see Mrs. Hudson acting as nanny to some of the children. Around the time Sherlock has reunited with Mary, Mrs. Hudson is under arrest for the murder of a young Greek man who had been rooming in the same building as her.

Seeing another Mrs. Hudson centered plot starting at about page eighty, I was reluctant to continue. The adventures of Clarissa Hudson that are the main focus of The Murder of Mary Russell marks it as my least favorite book in the series. This time, though, the mystery is fairly straightforward, save for the historical name dropping that started in the previous volume.

Four stars

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I See London, I See France: 06/23/20

I See London, I See France

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski is a young adult/new adult romance set during a trip through Europe. Sydney and Leela have the perfect summer trip mapped out only to have it tossed all aside on the flight to London. Leela's ex-boyfriend is on the flight too.

In London the girls meet up with Matt (the ex) and his Canadian friend, Jackson. There's still a spark between Matt and Leela. This trip seems to be turning into the Leela and Matt show, with Sydney and Jackson in tow.

At home, Sydney, Leela and Matt are too young to drink and smoke pot. In Europe, they're the legal age on this trip. So they indulge. Leela's careful budget is tossed aside. It's nerve wracking and not the experience she was expecting, but it will certainly be a memorable one.

Some of the negative reviews cite the drinking/smoking/sex as the reason. While I personally didn't find it relatable (beyond the sex, as I was sexually active by age 19), I don't find it objectionable. They aren't breaking the law. They aren't making a nuisance of themselves. They are pushing personal boundaries but that's it.

I did, however, relate to Sydney's feeling of being dragged along on an adventure that she didn't plan and couldn't imagine. I've been on plenty of trips where that has happened in one way or another. Sydney's experiences are just more extreme than what I've had while on the road.

Four stars

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A Song Below Water: 06/22/20

A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow is built on the premise that all sirens are Black girls. Tavia lives in Portland and has to struggle to keep her siren identity a secret, and her voice under control. Sirens are being killed and their murderers are being allowed to go free.

When she feels on edge or when her voice threatens to reveal itself, Tavia uses ASL to communicate. She speaks mostly with Effie, a girl Tavia calls her sister but I was never clear was her biological sister or sister in the blended family sensee.

Besides Tavia's point of view, we also are given Effie's. Tavia is living with Effie's family, having been forced to move to Portland from California where she can be better protected by a local network of sirens and siren allies.

Sirens, though, aren't the only supernatural beings in this novel. There mermaids, gorgons, gargoyles, and so forth. Frankly it was in the myriad of beings that I struggled most to keep everything straight in my head.

A Song Below Water feels like two novels pared down to fit into one book. Tavia and Effie don't get enough time to be fully realized characters. Their stories seem rushed and squashed. Likewise, the supernatural world they are living in isn't fully developed. Although both girls spend a lot of their inner monologues thinking about the supernatural world, they don't do much living in it. Thus it's more tell than show.

Three stars

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Boot & Shoe: 06/21/20

Boot & Shoe

Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee is the tale of two floppy dogs that are very set in their routine. They eat, sleep, and pee together but they spend their lazy days on opposite ends of the house. And then a squirrel comes to mess everything up.

The post squirrel drama is my favorite part. The dogs, so turned around, try to find each other by going to each other's favorite spot. Of course if they both go looking, neither will find the other!

This scene brings to mind a time when my then boyfriend and I agreed to meet after class at Kerr Hall. What we didn't realize is that there were two identical looking staircases on opposite ends of the building. He waited at one end and I at the other until we were sure we had been stood up. The fight that resulted remains our biggest one in twenty eight years together.

Five stars

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A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story: 06/20/20

A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story

A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley is a picture book about the protests to open up Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland to Black families. The story is narrated and illustrated from the childhood perspective of the author who was the first Black child to ride the carousel.

Before the history lesson, the book opens in the present with a Black girl riding a carousel. She muses about how everyone is equal on the ride because it goes in a circle. From there the book segues to asking the reader to imagine a time when not everyone would be allowed to ride.

The co-author, Amy Nathan, found through her research that after the amusement park closed the carousel was moved to the National Mall. The afterword includes photos of the carousel, the historic ride and Sharon Langley now as an adult. There's also a timeline and a bibliography.

The illustrations are done by Floyd Cooper. He's illustrated around 90 books, many which I want to / plan to read.

Five stars

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The Map of Stars: 06/19/20

The Map of Stars

The Map of Stars by Laura Ruby is the conclusion to the York series. Tess, Theo, and Jamie are at the edge of solving the Morningstarr cipher, but the friendship between the twins and Jamie is strained to the breaking point. Can they mend their friendship?

In the first volume, the trio had followed the clues of the traditional cipher. The second volume had them reacting after their trail led to the destruction of their home and the unleashing of machines no one had known about. Now, though, it's no longer about the cipher. It's about something bigger.

Tess and Theo are faced with the evidence that they might actually be the Morningstarrs. They know their family history well enough to know they aren't related to the twins who revolutionized New York City. They also have photos of a New York that isn't anything like their Big Apple.

The Map of Stars differs from the previous volumes in another significant way. While all the books start with a flashback chapter to the Morningstarrs. This one, though, also shows an alternate set of twins, older and desperate. Their world is crumbling under global warming.

The inclusion of the alt-Biedermann twins gives a new focus to The Map of Stars. While most of the adventures are still with the children, it's their decisions that affect the over all conclusion of the trilogy and this volume's placement on the road narrative spectrum.

Chart showing the progression of the York series on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

The journey through the city for the children is pretty much finished. Yes, they go to a few more locations, but their focus is now on building a device from the all the bits and bobs they've collected during their cipher hunt. Thus, their role as travellers is complete. Instead, the travellers in The Map of Stars are the alt-twins. The refocus from a group of children (marginalized travelers) to sibling travelers (CC).

The journey this time is to uhoria (CC). It's a time travel story. It's a journey from a bad timeline to a better (although with Slant, not perfect) timeline. The ultimate destination, then is something akin to that in "Blink" (Doctor Who, Series 3, Episode 10, 9 June 2007).

The route is the labyrinth (99). Yes there are bad guys after the twins and the things they are collecting. But they live in an alternate timeline, one directly affected by the journey of the alt-twins. Thus their route through time is the transformative one.

All together, the conclusion to the York series is about twin travelers to uhoria via the labyrinth (CCCC99).

Five stars

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The Oracle Code: 06/18/20

The Oracle Code

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp is a mystery / adventure set during the early days of Barbara's physio after being paralyzed. The book actually opens before the accident and alludes to it without connecting it to Batman. In this version it's left up to the reader to decide if she was ever Batgirl.

Instead, the book focuses on Barbara's skills as a hacker and on her friendships before and after the fall. Like the other YA standalone graphic novels, this one serves as an origin story of sorts, for Oracle.

Through a friendship with a girl named Jena, Barbara becomes aware of shading doings at the rehab facility. According to Jena, residents go missing. The most recent person to go missing is her twin brother. According the staff, her brother died in the fire that killed Jena's parents.

Observant readers will know if brother is actually missing or is dead. There are other clues to the goings on at the facility that are presented as side stories and visual clues.

At first, the similarity of some of these tales to Thornhill by Pam Smy annoyed me but they are actually substantial clues that are tightly woven into the mystery. Similarities between the two graphic novels are coincidental, borne out of shared tropes.

Five stars

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Flour in the Attic: 06/17/20

Flour in the Attic

Flour in the Attic by Winnie Archer is the fourth of the Bread Shop mysteries. Ivy's brother Billy is about to be engaged to his girlfriend (the deputy sheriff) when a long time resident is found dead, presumably drowned in the ocean while on a training run.

Marisol's family, though, swears up and down that she wasn't suicidal. Furthermore, she was too strong a swimmer to drown. A key clue reveals that she probably wasn't swimming when she died — one that anyone close to her would easily pick up.

The planning of Marisol's funeral leads to other unsettling discoveries. If you've read enough mysteries or watched enough police procedurals on TV, Flour in the Attic is easy to solve before Ivy and the others. What makes this book a page turner, though, is the family drama.

The fifth book in the series is Dough or Die and it releases August 25, 2020.

Five stars

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Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble: 06/16/20

Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble

Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble by Mariko Tamaki and Gurihiru collects the four issue arc where Spider-Man and Venom are roommates, with Ghost-Spider as a neighbor. It's essentially a sit-com in comic book form.

One doesn't have to know who any of the characters are. They're all introduced enough to land the jokes. In the middle of all this mayhem, there's a body-swapping plot that is taken to hilarious extremes.

I realize it's just a one-off but I would absolutely read a second volume. It's light, silly fun with the usual Spider-Man quips but taken to the extreme.

Five stars

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Home and Away: 06/15/20

Home and Away

In Home and Away by Candice Montgomery, Tasia Quirk lives a good life with her family in a wealthier bit of Los Angeles. She's a senior in high school. She's a quarterback on her school's team. She has everything going for her until a mysterious package drops a bombshell on her.

Turns out Tasia's father isn't her biological father. She's paler skinned than her parents because her biological father is white. He's a musician and composer in Hollywood.

Tasia freaks out and decides she no longer wants to live with her mother and father. Personally I found her reaction to be out of the blue given how happy she seemed to be up to that point. I should point out some of this is my own personal baggage as a child from a previous marriage who didn't go through Tasia's emotional rollercoaster.

The remainder of the book is Tasia finding her place in her biological father's family. She meets family she didn't know she had. She goes to a new school. She fights to get onto their football team.

Tasia's going between two schools and two sets of friends reminds me a bit of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the Netflix adaptation more than the original comic). I didn't find her choices always relatable but it was interesting to see her navigate between two very different families and schools.

Four stars

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Dread Pirate Fleur and the Ruby Heart: 06/14/20

Dread Pirate Fleur and the Ruby Heart

Dread Pirate Fleur and the Ruby Heart by Sara Starbuck opens with Fleur learning her father's true identity moments before he's killed. She's then taken onto her uncle's pirate ship where she has to pretend to be a boy and earn her keep.

Over the course of the book she proves herself to her uncle and learns the good and bad of her father's history. He was Henry the Heartless and had to make some terrible choices over the course of his career.

The book is a quick and enjoyable read but not a particularly memorable one. The sequel is Dread Pirate Fleur and the Hangman's Noose (2010).

Four stars

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Felix Ever After: 06/13/20

Felix Ever After

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is set in New York, primarily on Manhattan island. Felix Love has never been in love. He's too focused on his art and getting into Brown. He needs a killer portfolio but now his efforts are being sabotaged by someone at school who has deadnamed him and hung pre-surgery photos from his locked Instagram account.

I'm going to be upfront and say I don't know what high school life is like in New York City beyond knowing they have a bunch of specialized schools that are similar to the colleges Australia has in that they are specialized. I also don't know what rules, laws, guidelines etc, New York has for minors who wish to transition. I also don't know what New York's marijuana laws are.

Keep all of this in mind as the book features a seventeen year old main character who has already had top surgery. He routinely skips class to do drugs with his best friend.

Here, the top surgery for minors isn't a thing. Transitioning takes time and there are steps built into the process (for better or worse) that wouldn't make it possible for Felix to have had top surgery already. What would be available would be hormone blockers and a binder.

If things are significantly different in New York, that's not addressed in the narrative. One line to explain how lucky he is to live where he does would be sufficient. As it is, the book reads like a New Adult story crammed into a Young Adult book. Felix would be a believable twenty-something. As a seventeen year old, I'm having trouble believing the amount of agency he already has.

Quibbles aside, Felix is an engaging character. Felix lives in a diverse New York that mirrors the real world. While he's the only trans kid among his circle of friends, he's not the only queer one. His story is refreshing compared to the usual story where the character is still at the point of having to out themselves to their friends and family to move onto the process of living with their gender identity rather than their assigned gender.

Four stars

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The Shortest Way Home: 06/12/20

The Shortest Way Home

The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker is set in Sonoma county over a tumultuous summer after Hannah is abandoned by her almost fiancé Ethan. Things had started to go south at a wine tasting in a small family run winery with a long history.

Hannah has been offered a high paying job in New York and an apartment in Manhattan. But after this disastrous trip at the end of grad school, she realizes she can't commit her life to Ethan. She wants to try something new.

And then there's the winery. Hannah can't get it out of her mind. With nothing else to lose, she goes back and ends up inventing a new job for herself.

The remainder of the book is Hannah's time at the winery and how it gives her a chance to grow at a person. As she works there she learns of a family in crisis, grieving for over a dead child, a husband and wife no longer close, an a family business barely staying afloat. Hannah though does know marketing and sales and is able to revitalize the winery.

The problem, though, is that Hannah's story is told in a bland voice. She's taking her life on a complete tangent but the adventure or the terror — the high tension emotions aren't rendered on the page.

Hannah's summer adventure also happens to fit on the road narrative spectrum. Left by herself and feeling vulnerable, she is a marginalized traveler (66). Her destination is a rural part of Sonoma (33). Anyone who travels the North Bay knows the roads are all blue highways (33). All together Hannah's story is one of marginalized traveler going to rural Sonoma along the blue highway (663333).

Three stars

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Stepping Stones: 06/11/20

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley is the first volume in middle grade graphic novel series, Pea Pod Farm. Jen and her mother have moved to Pea Pod Farm with her mother's new boyfriend, Walter. On the weekends she also has two almost step-sisters: Andy and Reese.

Jen has been stuck with the job of caring for the chicks. She also has to help run the stall at the weekly farmers' market. But she feels like no one listens to her and no one rewards her for her successes. She's only scolded for mistakes.

To further add to her ire, Walter doesn't call Jen by her name. He insists on calling her Jenny. He praises his daughters and scolds Jen. He likes to right even when he's wrong. He's a dudebro and Jen's mother can do better, frankly.

But if you've read Knisley's memoirs, you'll recognize her own life in Jen's. You'll recognize the farm from Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (2013). This series of graphic novels, though, will give the author to explore bits of her life in ways that she can't in a memoir.

Lucy Knisley's book is Linney which collects her online cat comics. It releases in Fall 2021.

Five stars

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Dead Cold Brew: 06/10/20

Dead Cold Brew

Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle is the sixteenth book in the Coffeehouse mystery series. Mike has proposed to Clare with a ring made from some of Madam's diamonds. Their celebration is interrupted by a lawyer who has shocking news involving a sunken Italian ship and a missing national treasure.

Meanwhile a beloved family friend who happens to be Matteo's godfather, is poisoned. The crime appears tied to the sunken ship. Things are further complicated by a developer who plans to launch a modern day replica of the ship.

In my head the diamonds and the ship played out like a coffee driven fugue of The Pink Panther and Titanic. It didn't help that the diamonds were cats' eye diamonds, known for their particular flaws.

The historic plot is straight forward. The big reveal is obvious from the get-go and it's just a matter of waiting for the characters to reach the same conclusion. It would have been so much easier on everyone if Madam just admitted she had known the truth for decades.

The modern day mystery is less obvious, though the key players aren't exactly subtle in their machinations. Just go with the reality that this book might also be hiding a Bond villain or two.

Book seventeen is Shot in the Dark (2018).

Five stars

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Leave It to Cleaver: 06/09/20

Leave It to Cleaver

Leave It to Cleaver by Victoria Hamilton is the sixth book in the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. Jaymie Leighton has been coerced into helping her sister clean out the house of a deceased neighbor. In the basement they find the mummified remains of a girl who had been a friend of Becca's when Jaymie was an infant. She and another girl went missing on the same day and now days apart both their bodies are found.

As has been reiterated in every volume so far, Jaymie is fifteen years younger than her sister. Her sister is a Gen-Xer about my age. Jaymie is a Millennial, eight years younger than my brother. For Jaymie the mid 1980s are as vague and distant as the early 1970s are for me.

The murders, believed to have been two runaways until their bodies were found, took place just after Becca's sixteenth birthday. Although Jaymie is now friends with Becca's childhood friends, she feels awkward asking them to reminisce about a time she can't remember.

The evidence points to the hot headed brother of one of Jaymie's dearest friends. He has since turned his life around and she can't believe he would have been different enough to have committed murder. So she decides to investigate and clear his name.

The setting of the old house filled with junk and bad memories reminds me of the second book in the series, Bowled Over (2013). My one quibble with this volume is that the current murder location was similar enough to be confusing. Some of that confusion is probably due to me listening to an audio while working on other things.

Book seven is No Grater Danger (2018).

Five stars

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Thirty-three years of tracking my reading: 06/09/20

Thirty-three years of tracking my reading

Since 1987 I've been tracking my reading. I happened to start my list (in an old Holly Hobbie diary) on this day in 1987. I was just finishing up 7th grade. To read more about the reasons, see last year's post.

Last night marked the close of my 33rd year of tracking my reading. I am three-quarters the way through my third handwritten volume. I'm at 9091 books read.

Three years ago I predicted that by January of 2018, I would cross ten thousand books. Silly me. I I just crossed 9,000 and won't hit 10,000 until December 2022.

My first book for year 33 was The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton. My last book was a re-read of Tik-Tok of Oz by L Frank Baum. I will probably get it reviewed by early next year.

Last year I mentioned that I was through my backlog of reviews and would be focusing my reading on diversifying my reading. While I have done that where 60% of the books I read each month are by diverse authors, I need to adjust my focus to actively include more books by Black authors.

11% of the population where I live is Black. My blogging should at least reflect the demographics of where I live. Right now my reviews of Black written books account for 3.3% of my reviews. For my 34th year of reviewing (from June 9, 2020-June 8, 2021) I should bare minimum read and review books by forty new-to-me Black authors.

To keep track of my new reading goal, and to make my blog more useful, I've created a new author index of books by Black authors reviewed on here. The index is available from the header on every page. The direct link is here.

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The Fox Wish: 06/08/20

The Fox Wish

The Fox Wish by Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai was originally published in Japan in 2003 as きつねのかみさま (Kitsune no kami-sa ma). The edition I read was published in 2017 by Chronicle books.

A girl and a boy are on their way home from the park when the girl realizes she's left her jumprope behind. When she goes to retrieve it, she finds a group of foxes trying to jumprope. What's a kid to do when faced with foxes using their jumprope? Coach them!

Overall it's a short and sweet tale of children meeting up with foxes, or as the original title implies, fox gods, and doing the right thing by playing with them and letting them keep the jumprope.

But the artwork doesn't really work for me. The children are washed out. They're vaguely in a vintage style like something from my childhood. They're somewhat like Gyo Fujikawa's iconic illustrations.

Four stars

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Mini Shopaholic: 06/07/20

Mini Shopaholic

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is the sixth book in the Shopaholic series. Becky and Luke are now the proud parents of a stubborn and quite possibly, spoiled, toddler. Minnie's favorite word is "Mine!" and she's getting her parents in trouble where ever she goes.

There is also the problem that the Brandons have been living with Becky's parents. They sold their home in London and haven't managed to buy a suitable new home.

In the midst of all of the parenting and housing troubles, Luke's company takes a huge financial hit. That means cutting back. And that means Becky and Minnie both have to learn to do without and to work with a budget.

Of course it's when things are at their most dire that Becky gets her most outlandish of plans. The bulk of this book, beyond the trying to learn how to rein in Minnie's impulses, is Becky trying to put on a huge surprise party to cheer up Luke.

I have to admit that I'm getting tired of Becky and Luke's inability to communicate. I get that the plot and gags have always hinged on this flaw of theirs but with Minnie now there is so much more at stake. Plus there is Luke who has sworn up and down how he won't be like his mother becoming more and more like her!

The seventh book is Shopaholic to the Stars (2014).

Five stars

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We Dream of Space: 06/06/20

We Dream of Space

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly takes place in the month leading up to the Challenger explosion. Because of my age and the fact that this is a middle grade novel, I happen to have been the age of the children when this actually happened. As you can imagine, it made the reading experience a raw one.

Bird, Fitch, and Cash Nelson Thomas are siblings. Bird and Fitch are fraternal twins. Cash is the eldest but has been held back so that they're all in seventh grade together. Their parents aren't happily married and probably should get a divorce as their relationship is making for a toxic environment.

The only thing the three siblings have in common is an enthusiastic science teacher, Ms. Salonga. She applied and failed to be the teacher in space. She's theming January's lessons around the Challenger.

Bird loves the class and her teacher and dreams of being the first female shuttle commander. She also draws the most interesting "Bird's eye view" diagrams of machines. Cash meanwhile wants to be on the basketball team but can't play because of a broken arm. Fitch, meanwhile, lives in the local arcade where he has a hanger-on, a boy named Marsh.

Erin Entrada Kelly fills the world of Bird, Fitch, and Cash with pop culture and news from the times. The music, the television shows, the arcade games, the sports stars and so forth. It's all there and it's a believable mix of old and new as any era is.

The book includes an afterword that explains the events of the Challenger as well as the progress of women in NASA.

Five stars

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A Field Guide to Getting Lost: 06/05/20

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough is set in Seattle. Sutton and her father live in the same apartment building as her mother. But her parents are divorced and her mother is usually absent — down in Antartica studying penguins. Meanwhile, Luis and his mother live across town. Luis has terrible, life threatening allergies. Luis and Sutton's parents are dating and now they want the children to meet.

Sutton and Luis are as different as chalk and cheese. Sutton is rational, grounded in reality. She loves programming and is currently struggling to get her robot through a maze in as few moves as possible. Luis, meanwhile loves fantasy and science fiction. He adores Star Wars, Harry Potter, and comic books.

The chapters alternate points of view between the two children. From how Sutton is written: her love of routine, her problems with small talk, her special interests. Luis is out-going and before his allergies surfaced, was adventurous. He misses the freedom he used to have and he hates the numerous trips to the emergency room.

In the last third of the book, the narrative settles into the road narrative spectrum as it brings the two families together into a potential new, blended family. All of this takes place during a potentially disastrous hike through Discovery Park.

The journey begins with Sutton and Luis separated from their parents. As their collective goal is to become a blended family, this adventure unites them as sibling travelers (CC). Their destination is home (66). More specifically, it's the symbol of home — namely the north parking lot. If they can find their way back, they can get home. The route they take is offroad (66). It begins with an ill advised shortcut through a thicket. It ends with a tumble in a creek. All together, Sutton and Luis help their families on the road to being a blended family through a sibling journey to home via an offroad route (CC6666).

Four stars

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Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 2: 06/04/20

Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 2

Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 2 by Ryo Maruya is the B in this four book plot arc. It's the point where everything we thought we knew is shown to be wrong and the characters and reader have to come to a new understanding.

The biggest reveal is that this Oz isn't Baum's Oz. Baum's Oz is Oz Prime. Or if Baum is to believed, his books are just first hand accounts of an Oz that can't be fully realized in book form. In which case, the Oz here would be Oz Tertius.

Put another way, there are forces at play that are trying to run the Oz narrative as a simulation and it's getting away from them. The world is breaking down. There is a corrupting force eating away at Oz Tertius.

As this isn't Oz Prime or Oz Secundus, it doesn't matter if characters or scenes are off model. So the Wicked Witch of the West can be a hot dude. He can even survive being melted. His monkeys can be people too.

Despite all the changes and the realization that the experiment is running afoul of an outside influence, volume two also sits on the road narrative spectrum.

Chart showing the RNS progression between volumes 1 and 2

As with the first volume, the main traveler is a scarecrow. But with greater understanding of how this Oz works, it's also apparent that all the travelers (save for maybe Dorothy) are constructs and trapped within the confines of their simulation. In this regard, the party is made up of scarecrows and minotaurs (99).

The destination is uhoria (CC). It's an out of time ending — or in this case, a desire by the travelers for an off script ending. They want to transcend their programming and make their own destinies.

The route taken is an offroad one (66). This piece of the travel takes them off the Yellow Brick road and through the poppies and across a river. Of course these detours are in Baum's novel too, but here in a separate volume, they count as the main means of travel.

All together, volume 2 is the tale of scarecrows (literal and figurative) traveling to uhoria via an offroad route (99CC66).

Four stars

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Death by Pumpkin Spice: 06/03/20

Death by Pumpkin Spice

Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson is the third of the Bookstore Cafe mysteries. It's a departure from the others in the series, being primarily a locked room mystery.

Krissy has been invited to a Halloween party, one that is the annual talk of the town. It's set in a house specifically built to be a year-round themed haunted house. The party happens to fall during a strong rain storm, turning the long gravel driveway into an impassable mudslide, essentially trapping everyone there and preventing the police from arriving in a timely manner.

With that set up, there's bound to a murder. Sure enough, a beautiful young woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe is found dead in the pumpkin room. Without police back up, Officer Paul Dalton orders that no one leave the house (not that they could if they wanted to). He also enlists Krissy's help.

When I first started this book, I expected the housebound part of the plot would still only be the first third of book. I was expecting plotting similar to Out of Circulation by Miranda James (2012). Instead, it's more of an And Then There Were None, minus the extra murders.

The setting — a Halloween (or more broadly, horror) themed house during a massive rain storm made for a fun mystery. There are enough clues and details to figure out the motive for the murder and the series of events.

The fourth book is Death by Vanilla Latte (2017).

Four stars

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If I Couldn't Be Anne: 06/02/20

If I Couldn't Be Anne

If I Couldn't Be Anne by Kallie George and Geneviève Godbout is a picture book from Anne Shirley's point of view. Anne as she's introduced in Anne of Green Gables is a talkative, enthusiastic child. We're given lots of monologs from her and this book tries to dig down to the basic emotions behind her run-on sentences.

Anne starts off comparing herself to the nature around her on Prince Edward Island. She could be a gull. She could be the wind. Then she goes on to different heroines from stories she likes. She could be a tightrope walker or a lily maid. And so forth.

Of course her puffy sleeves get a cameo. Readers of the original book will recall how much she wanted a dress with puffy sleeves!

Each of these day dreamed scenes are lovingly recreated through Geneviève Godbout's illustrations. She works in pastels and colored pencils. The texture of her work adds a soothing dimension to Anne as she explores and dreams.

There's a previous book in this series, Goodnight, Anne (2018) which I plan to read.

Five stars

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May 2020 Sources: 06/02/20

Previous month's book sources

May was the second full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions, and June will probably be too. Also June is starting off with 8PM to 5AM curfews because of civil unrest. Time at home was once again caring for puppy, painting, playing video games, chores, reading, and now reading through the news.

ROOB Score for the last three years

Like the previous two months, I read 12 TBR books. I also read four books published in April. Thirteen books were for research. None were from the library. Those two extra new books caused a rise in my ROOB score, from -3.42 to -2.59. That score is in keeping for most May scores.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

May 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. May is higher (meaning worse) than April and on a par with February and March. Too many things are in flux right now to make a prediction for June's score.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for May stayed the same at -2.56.

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Clever Little Witch: 06/01/20

Clever Little Witch

Clever Little Witch by Mượn Thị Văn and Hyewon Yum is a picture book about a big sister annoyed by her little brother. Both happen to be witches. Linh decides it's time to put a stop her brother getting into her magical stuff.

Linh and her brother (and presumably their family) live on tropical Mãi Mãi. Linh has the reputation of being the most clever on the entire island.

Most of the book is a back and forth of Linh using magic on her brother and he making the most of it. At long last she transforms him into something that seems permanent. It's only then that she begins to regret her actions.

As a big sister I can relate to Linh's frustrations but there are unanswered questions. Why aren't the parents or other adults intervening in the brother's antics? Why does it take Linh so long to realize that her methods might be too extreme?

The illustrations meanwhile are bright and colorful. It's a very different approach to the usual Halloween themed colors and motifs that most witch picture book use.

Four stars

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May 2020 Summary: 06/01/20

Reading report

May continued the COVID-19 shelter in place. The bookstore is now doing drop off pick-ups at a nearby coffee shop. It feels like we're buying through a black market. I email the bookstore owner. Every two weeks she emails with a list of what books have come in and the cost of the purchase. I write a check which I then give to the coffee shop owner while I order my coffee to go. June now enters in a new reality. It's one of protests, riots, looting, burning buildings and now a countywide curfew.

I read more books in May, 29, up from April's 19. I made my diverse reading goal. It was on par with April's accomplishment for reading diversely, just with more books.

On the reviews front, I also had a good month, with eighteen 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 13 from 15, and my 2019 books to review are down to 16 from 25. This year's books are at 55 of the 150 books read.

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