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Orsinian Tales: 04/17/21
Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin is a collection of short stories from throughout European history but set in a fictional country, Orsinia.
Orsinia from clues in the stories is possibly Germanic. It's near the Iron Curtain but not in it. It's mountainous and agrarian.
Some of the stories drew me right in but none of them held my attention as well as her longer science fiction pieces. Le Guin's works are hit or miss for me and this one is mostly a miss.
In Your Shoes: 04/16/21
In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart is a parallel plot with two narrators with important shoes. Miles spends all his spare time in his grandfather's bowling alley. When he forgets one morning to take off his bowling shoes before school, he choses to wear them every day for luck.
Amy is new to the school. She's living with her uncle now at the mortuary. One leg is shorter than the other, so she has to wear a shoe with a lift. Her first day of school begins with her being beaned in the head by one of Miles's bowling shoes.
Miles, though, is a good kid and apologizes without being coerced. He and Amy, slowly, and organically become friends. Their friendship also gives them the strength they need to deal with family issues.
The one thing that didn't work for me was the story Amy writes in her spare time. It's supposed to be her way of dealing with the stress of moving, being in a new school, and missing her father. But it's filler and it's presented with an unappealing typeface.
Black Sun: 04/15/21
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is the start of the Between the Earth and the Sky series. The holy city of Tova is preparing for the winter eclipse. This year is extra special because it coincides with a solar eclipse. Rumor has it, a god will return.
The book has a fantastic opening where a boy is taken by his mother for an initiation except she goes well beyond what he expected. Along with scarring his back she blinds him, thus opening up his body to be a vessel for the returning god.
Then the book spends the next three hundred pages jumping back and forth through time and to various points of view to show all the major players in the upcoming convergence. It's an ambitious attempt at storytelling but I never spent enough time with any particular character to get to know any of them. For me it was a confusing slog through a fascinating world.
The world building is the best part of Black Sun. It takes the pre-Columbian societies of Mexico and blends them with the peoples of the Four Corners area: Diné, Zuni, Hopi, etc. I kept reading for the world building.
Lost in the Never Woods: 04/14/21
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a contemporary retelling / pastiche of Peter Pan by J M Barrie (1904). The source material while a personal favorite, is notably fraught with sexist, classist, and racist tropes. The last time I read Barrie's novel was 1988.
Aiden Thomas brings the novel forward to the present and moves the location from an middle class London neighborhood to Astoria Oregon. Fictional Astoria is more wooded and more wild than real world Oregon. It's also unfortunately devoid of pirates. Captain Hook et al do not make an appearance. In fact, Neverland, beyond it's reach through the Astorian woods, doesn't make an appearance.
Wendy Darling has just turned eighteen. She volunteers at the local hospital where her mother works. She plans to go to college to become an RN but her best friend is trying to convince her to aim higher.
Wendy, though, is burned out, haunted by the lasting effects of being the only child to return after she and her brothers went missing five years ago. She has no memories of her ordeal beyond that of a gnarled old tree and the figure of a boy. Both she draws obsessively.
Then new children start disappearing and a familiar boy appears on her drive home. Peter Pan has come to Astoria. Like in the original, he's lost his shadow and needs Wendy to reattach it. This time, though, the shadow is more powerful and it's evil. It's a side of Peter Pan that brings to mind the Peter Pan arc in Once Upon a Time.
Aiden Thomas returns to the themes of family, death, and loss. This time, though, there is no romance beyond a brief infatuation that Wendy feels for Peter as he ages into early adulthood. Instead the focus is on allowing oneself to grieve and how families struggle to continue living after the loss of a child (or children).
With the exception of Wendy (and perhaps her mother, if Peter's stories can be believed), lost kids (no longer just boys) don't come back from Neverland. They might leave and move on, but they don't return.
Both Peter Pan and Lost in the Never Woods sit on the road narrative spectrum. Where they sit, though, reflects on their different thematic cores. Peter Pan is about siblings (CC) traveling to a magical land, a utopia (FF), via an offroad route (flying to the second star on the right and straight on to morning) (66).
Lost in the Never Woods, meanwhile, is about a scarecrow/minotaur team (99) where Wendy wants to rescue her brothers and Peter is the embodiment of Neverland. To accomplish her goal, Wendy must recover her memories, a form of traveling to uhoria (CC). Wendy and Peter's route is through the cornfield, or more specifically the tkaronto. It's a journey through liminal space and time.
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman: 04/13/21
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung is the first of three collections of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle's brother in law. Where Sherlock is a detective, Raffles is a thief (when he's not playing cricket). Bunny, his border and implied lover, is a writer and accomplice.
These stories are part slash fan-fiction from the end of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. Except the characters are the antithesis of Holmes and Watson. They are also caricatures of friends of Hornung, Oscar Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.
But— Hornung's writing leaves me bored and restless. If Watson's hero worship of Holmes is bad, Bunny's is a whole level worse. While the first story where they meet and decide to rob a jewelers together is fun, the remaining stories I attempted were painfully slow and dull.
For a better "anti-Sherlock" that gets the original tone of the stories while still having fun with being a pastiche, I highly recommend the manga series, Moriarty the Patriot by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi. The anime, by the way, is also excellent.
All For One: 04/12/21
All For One by Melissa de la Cruz is the conclusion to the Alex & Eliza trilogy. It focuses on two things: Eliza's first pregnancy and Alex's relationship with Mrs. Reynolds.
For the Reynold's affair, Alex is written in an overly sympathetic manner. Essentially she puts all the blame on Mrs. Reynolds. Alex takes her on as a client, gets her a room where she can hide from her abusive husband, and she proceeds to seduce him.
I honestly don't know how complicit either person was. I also honestly don't care. I don't however believe that it was the near tragic hiccup in the Hamilton marriage.
As with the previous two books, I found the chapters written from Eliza's point of view the most engaging. Throughout the author seems to have had a clearer sense of what she might have been thinking and feeling. I honestly wish that the three volumes were cut down to one slightly long one focusing only on Eliza's half of the story.
The Magic Fish: 04/11/21
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen is a nuanced and layered YA graphic novel. Stories are woven together into one beautiful book that could honestly take a much longer and in depth analysis than what this short blog post will provide.
In the present it's about Tiēn wanting to tell his parents he's gay and hoping the boy he's been friends with for years also has feelings for him. In the past it's about how Tiēn's parents met and were forced to flee Vietnam. In the fairy tale it's about a young woman heading out on her own to avoid a life she doesn't want.
Throughout the book is about family, sacrifices for love, self esteem, and choices. Family is blood. Family is found. Family is friendship. Sacrifices can be leaving loved ones behind. They can be missing important events because money is tight. It can be having to mend and re-mend old things because new things are out of reach. Self esteem is self love. It's keeping secrets. It's leaving toxic people behind. It's taking chances on who to trust. It's being open. Choices are what gets a person through life. Good choices. Bad choices. Choices made when no option seems good.
Throughout this story is beautifully illustrated by the author. Two thirds of the book were hand drawn with traditional media. The last third was done digitally. If the introduction didn't mention the switch in technique, I wouldn't have noticed.
A Pho Love Story: 04/10/21
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le is a YA romance set around competing Vietnamese restaurants. Bao and Linh met when they were little but they've been forbidden from talking since then. Their high school newspaper, though, brings them together on a project.
Bao who claims to be proud of his mediocrity finds a love of writing. Linh loses herself in her art. Their friendship grows and blossoms into more over the course of their newspaper assignments. As they are the children of restaurant owners, they've been given a restaurant review column. Bao writes and Linh edits and illustrates.
There's understandably a lot of emphasis on food, cooking, and running a restaurant. Don't read while hungry. It's a shame the book doesn't include any recipes.
Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 8: 04/08/21
Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 8 by Ryoko Kui begins lightheartedly. It feels like a one off, a humorous breather. But the back half is gearing up for a potential disaster. A dungeon that gets too big will end up destroying the town and people settled near it and the clock is ticking for this particular dungeon.
The first half opens with the humorous and embarrassing effects of eating or being too near changelings. They happen to look, act, and taste like mushrooms but they will make the affected into a different species for a while. The traveling companions get an uninvited opportunity to experience the particular strengths and weaknesses each species brings to the party.
But the rest of the book is right at the surface — the first room of the dungeon. Visitors are getting cocky. The dungeon appears to be an endless source of easy wealth. The battle that happens here is the first taste of how bad things are going to get.
Like the previous volumes, number eight also sits on the road narrative spectrum. While the previous two had been at the fantasy side of things, this one is back in horror. The travelers are once again united as a family (33). Their goal is to find a way to find a way of curing Falin. On a larger scale, they believe finding her cure might also bring about a way of neutralizing the dungeon's rapid expansion. Clues to both solutions are found in what they believe is the original homes (66) of the dungeon creators. The route they take is via an old funicular (00). Thus the forward progress the party makes can be summarized as a family looking for home via the railroad (336600).
Volume 9's English translation came out in January 2021.
Mistletoe Murder: 04/07/21
Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier is the first of the Lucy Stone mystery series. The original title, Mail-Order Murder, makes more sense in the overall context of the novel but also shows at a quick glance just how outdated this story is.
Lucy Stone works the night shift as a mail order company. It's coming up on Christmas so she's extra busy. At home she carries all of the emotional labor in planning the holiday events, decorating, baking, and buying gifts for the children. At work she discovers the founder of her company dead in his car of an apparent suicide.
While this book is packaged as a cozy, especially with the newer title (editions from 1998 onwards), there's a callousness to this book that later cozies lack. Cozy leads remain optimistic whenever possible. When there is a death, even after finding more than one body, the cozy sleuths grieve. Lucy lacks this level of engagement and reminds me more of Kinsey Millhone. The difference, here, is Millhone is a private detective.
Another thing that sets the book apart from a typical cozy is the early, grizzly death of the main character's cat. Cats and cozies go hand in hand. The cat is never harmed, unless it's destiny is to be a helpful ghost cat. This cat is just a dead cat who wasn't well cared for and isn't grieved over. Worse yet, the cat is a plot device to get Lucy in the right spot to learn some key information.
The next book in the series is Tippy Toe Murder (1994).
Feast by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller is a cookbook based on a five month long roadtrip across Canada to every province and territory. Between each section: starters, mains, fish, etc. are stories of various stops along the way.
Each recipe also includes a story. You'll learn where the recipe is from, who created it or perfected it, and what native ingredients it uses. Most recipes also include a full color photograph to entice you to try it. For recipes that involve region specific ingredients, the book includes substitutes.
In tone, Feast reminds me of The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (1994). The big difference is that Feast is decidedly not vegetarian, though there are plenty of vegetarian recipes in it.
Float Plan: 04/05/21
Float Plan by Trish Doller is a romance set in the Caribbean. Anna is facing the year anniversary of her fiancé's suicide. Ben and she had planned to take their Alberg to a series of islands. Now on the anniversary Anna has decided to set out by herself. When she runs aground on her first day, Anna realizes she needs help and hires Keane Sullivan.
Keane Sullivan is looking for one last chance to prove himself before his thirtieth birthday. He'd had a promising career in sailing before losing his leg in a tragic accident. Since then he hasn't been able to find reliable work. His prosthesis weirds out most employers.
The yet to be named Alberg is as much a character as Anna and Keane. For the first two thirds or maybe even three quarters of Float Plan, the ship is in a love triangle with Keane for Anna's affections. With the ship being so important the narrative is detail rich in what it takes to live on a ship and navigate it both across open water and in and around island harbors.
I ended up reading Float Plan with Google Maps opened. Each destination mentioned, I would look up. Sometimes I would even take a moment away from reading to do some desktop exploration. I thoroughly enjoyed the attention to detail both in terms of the Alberg and for the sense of place.
Of course, this book is ultimately a romance. It's a nice, satisfying slow burn. As it takes place during a journey, there's a similar emotional vibe to Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher (2021) but with a realistic, contemporary setting.
The Library Book: 04/04/21
The Library Book by Susan Orlean covers the fire of the Los Angeles Central Library, as well as its recovery, and its history. On April 29, 1986, shortly after opening, the fire alarm sounded. By the time the library was evacuated, smoke was visible. The fire ended up burning so hot that metal bookcases melted and thousands of books ended up turning to ash. The reason you probably haven't heard of the fire is it happened the same day as Chernobyl.
The most fascinating parts of this book are the descriptions of the fire and the discussion of the library's architecture. Let's just say the architect didn't know jack shit about fire prevention or electrical wiring.
The building turned a smoldering fire set by an arsonist into a raging chimney fed inferno. But that still means there was an intentionally lit fire. Orlean goes into the history of the man who was accused (and acquitted) and interviewed his family.
But Orlean gets sidetracked by writing lengthy biographies of the various men who ran the library (as well as asshole Melville Dewey). Although there were women librarians in charge too, their careers are glossed over. Libraries are primarily, overwhelmingly run by women but men consistently get the majority of the attention, even in a book written by a woman.
The Hedgehog of Oz: 04/03/21
The Hedgehog of Oz by Cory Leonardo is a middle grade adventure that pays homage to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1899). Marcel the hedgehog has been living in the Emerald City movie theater with a pair of hens as he figures out how to reunite with his beloved Dorothy.
Something goes wrong and Marcel ends up in a truck, whisked away from the Emerald City. He ends up in a box in the center of Mousekinland. Marcel sees his situation as being remarkably parallel to Dorothy from the movie (as he's never read the book). If Marcel can follow the lessons of the movie, he might be able to get back to the movie theater, or more importantly, his Dorothy.
Looking, though, at Marcel's story from Baum's books, we can see that the hedgehog isn't starting from Kansas. Instead, he is starting from The Emerald City of Oz (1910) and in his desire to find Dorothy, is facing the problem of The Lost Princess of Oz (1917). Yet, the path he has to take from Mousekinland, to the theater, to ultimately his original home with Dorothy, will take him through the motions of the first book.
As Marcel's adventure is inspired by the Oz books (and movie), his journey home can be mapped on the road narrative spectrum. Marcel like Baum's Dorothy is an orphan (FF) in that he's separated from his family and friends. His goal is to get home, at first meaning the movie theater, but ultimately meaning his home with Dorothy (66). His route is through the cornfield as represented both by the corn the mousekin are trying to collet, and later by the popcorn that helps Marcel find his way back to the city (FF). Thematically then, Marcel's recapitulation of Dorothy Gale's adventure is an orphan traveling to home via the cornfield (FF66FF).
Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans: 04/02/21
Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans by Russell Ginns is set in Seattle and involves a worldwide caper and a search for a missing, presumed dead, uncle. While Samantha's sister receives an incredible amount of money, and her brother receives a baseball team, she is given an umbrella with holes.
Samantha, though, has a head for puzzles and eventually figures out the significance of her inheritance. This leads her on a worldwide trip exploring a map that at first glance makes no sense.
There's a lot of potential to these means of travel that could have been expanded beyond the two books in this series. There's a hint at a history similar to that of Warehouse 13 with a travel logic similar to that of the The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell (2018).
For the puzzle loving reader, the book is also chock full of hidden messages. There's a solution key in the back of the book to check your answers or see where and how they were hidden.
Samantha's initial adventure can also be mapped on the road narrative spectrum. As she and her brother end up traveling together, they are collectively sibling travelers (CC). Their destinations are various cities (00). Their mode of transportation while unusual serves as a railroad (CC) in that there are fixed routes with predictable stations if one can read the map. Summarized then, Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans is about siblings going to the city via the railroad (CC0000).
The sequel is Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs (2019).
March 2021 Sources: 04/02/21
March was the twelfth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. Our oldest though was be able to come home for spring break. Ian's parents are still stuck in Canada. At the end of the month, Ian and I got our first vaccinations.
In March I read 13 TBR books, up from February's 12 TBR. I read five published in March. Five books were for research, with an extra one as a rare ARC. None were from the library. The five new books brought my score up from -2.48 to -2.21. Nonetheless, it was in the middle for March months for eleven years of tracking. I didn't make my predicted score of -2.21, but I was close.
April will continue to have a mixture of new and previously month's books. As I'm running even with reading for what I'm reviewing, I predict another score around -2.2.
My average for March stayed put at -2.21.
In Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright, Maureen and Francine Carter have always done everything together. That's how it goes when you're twins in a tight-knit family. But now they're in middle school and they have separate schedules. Shy Maureen feels on her own as Francine rebrands herself as Fran.
Maureen is also faced with being enrolled in the cadet corps instead of p.e. She's terrible at marching and can't face getting her first B or worse. Her drill sergeant / teacher suggests she run for office as extra credit. That's the set up for the core plot, one that's similar to Act by Kayla Miller (2020) except that Maureen is running against her twin.
In this set up there will be a winner and a loser. The question here is how will the stress of the election affect the family and that unique bond that twins share. Midway through there's a moment where it appears their parents will force Fran to drop out, thus giving Maureen an uncontested win. Thankfully the twins manage to convince their parents that this is unnecessary.
What makes this book work is the character growth of the twins, their parents, and their friends. While they're are misunderstandings and miscommunications, everyone does eventually talk. Arguments happen. Feelings are hurt. People apologize. Hurt feelings are mending. Characters grow.
March 2021 Summary: 04/01/21
March continued the COVID-19 shelter in place, bring us to our thirteenth month of shelter in place. Forty-seven percent of the state has received a vaccination. According to KRON4, seventeen percent of the state has been fully vaccinated. Ian and I received our first doses on March 31st.
I read more books in March, 24, up from 23 in the previous month. Of my February read books, an even number were diverse vs not. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Of those twelves read, three were queer. Of the reviewed books, eight were, marking my best month yet for this metric.
I have 15 books remaining from 2020 to review, and 32 books of the 82 books read this year.