This is my first experiment with scratchboard. My sister bought me a clayboard for Christmas, and it looked expensive, so I was too intimidated to start. I got some smaller ones to ‘practice’ before I did the larger one. My inspiration is Jennifer Hewitson who illustrates a calendar I’m very fond of. I don’t know …
I bought this book for my daughter, who read it and implored me to read it, adding “it will make you cry, but it’s good” which I usually equate with “drink this, it will make you vomit, but it’s good.” I don’t like crying, I don’t want to cry when I read books. I can make myself depressed without outside assistance, thank you very much. And yet, I read it, I cried, and yet I can say it’s good.
Marin is a freshman at college, coping (very poorly) with grief. She’s grieving her grandfather who, as it turns out, isn’t so great at grief himself. Marin’s strategy is to run away, literally and figuratively, from her pain. Only her best friend and ex-girlfriend Mabel is coming to visit for three days, so Marin will have to cope or at least start to face her pain.
What worked for me was the focus on details that really made me feel emotionally attuned with the protagonist. When Marin describes eating at a kitchen table so small that she and her Gramps accidentally brushed knees all the time, I could picture their relationship. When strangers (surfer friends of her dead mother) give her seashells, it tells me a lot about her place in the beach-goers society. When she puts her hand on Mabel’s shoulder and Mabel covers it with her own, it tells me worlds about how the two of them are feeling. Brushing teeth without talking to each other. Tomatoes so poor quality they are white in the center. Masking tape labeling everything in the fridge as hers. I felt what Marin was feeling vividly, because all the details made me feel like I was living her life.
Since it’s about grief, about people dealing poorly with grief and about the pain that inadvertently causes in the ones they love, it’s a sad book that just gets sadder and sadder as Marin’s poor choices drive people away. But just when it hit peak depressing, out of nowhere it smacked me right in the feels and then I really needed the tissue box. It had a hopeful, redemptive ending, and not a typical “heartwarming” which is code for “as depressing as orphans being tortured,” but “things are going to be okay because they all really love each other” kind of heartwarming.
I wrote this book a few years ago and finally published it this year. What held me back from publishing it is that I wanted it to be illustrated but didn’t have the time or money to find and hire an artist. But I’ve been really stepping up my drawing and painting game in the past year or so and I finally felt like my art skills were enough to do the book justice. In addition to the cover, I have small watercolors (rendered as black and white in this) at the start of each chapter.
The protagonist of this book is 11, but she reads a little younger because I based her off my own memories of childhood and I’m quite weird. It’s set in Tempe, Arizona, in the 1980s, so it’s “old timey” as a certain 12-year-old told me. The advantage of having it set back then is that the kids actually have freedom to leave the house on their own and explore the neighborhood without some nosy neighbor calling child protective services.
While it is an adventure, and Scar has real challenges to solve (saving her brother) the book has enough funny points to act as a counterbalance to the tension. A good reader might like to read this independently as early as 8, and adults will probably enjoy it too, especially if they get it on kindle so people on the subway don’t realize they’re reading a kids’ book. I’ve read it to a five-year-old, who enjoyed it quite a bit, though he guessed all the plot points because he’s too smart for his own good. At 36,000 words, it’s basically novella length, and you can finish it in less than a week of bedtime sessions, especially if the person you’re reading it to is winsome and adorable and you’re kind of a pushover for that sort of thing.
We got this book as an audiobook for a car trip, reasoning that YA was one of the few things we would both enjoy. My kid had started reading it, saying that it was one of those “kid from our world goes to fantasy world” tropes, but quite a bit darker. Since a bunch of kids are kidnapped and sold into slavery, I’d agree that yes, this is quite a bit darker.
Cole and his friends Dalton and Jenna are from Mesa, Arizona (which I don’t believe for a bit, because anyone from Arizona would be more amazed by the fact that a house had a basement than they would by a guy in a costume) and decide to go to a “haunted house” in the neighborhood. The book felt retro in that none of the 11-year-olds had phones and that they were allowed to wander by themselves in the neighborhood and even into someone’s house. Inside, scary strangers, including a witch, chide them for being soft people from an easy world who don’t know what real fear is.
Pretty soon the kids learn, as the kids are manacled and caged in wagons for sale. Cole is dead set on rescuing his friends from slavery, and completely undaunted by the danger of doing so, even when he gets smacked around quite a bit. He’s not completely successful, and I cynically expect it will take the whole series to achieve this goal. Cole’s adventure lies in a different direction, with the Sky Raiders.
This is the kind of fantasy novel where you can’t expect things to make sense. How do castles fly in the sky? Floatstones. How do float stones work? We don’t know, stop asking questions, kid. Eventually you have to just kind of nod and run with it. Giant cheesecake mesa? Nod, okay. Bow that never runs out of arrows? Sure, why not? Magic that stops working over the border? If that’s how you do things here. Dusk in all directions at once? Just stop thinking about it.
The real fun of this is in the adventuring. Pretty soon Cole meets other young friends and band together to help a princess. It takes them a while to figure out who the princess is, but the rest of us were swifter on the uptake. I mean really, there aren’t that many girls in the story. The characters are not particularly deep. Cole is brave, Jase is cocky, Twitch is nervous, Mira is female. It’s a boy’s romp, with lots of action and danger, but not a lot of thinking. Characters help or hinder, but don’t really have much of an arc. Even Cole, arguably the most complicated character, has only one conflict: help the princess or save his friends?
I especially loved all the magic items. A bag filled with fog? A painting that tells you the weather tomorrow? The kids are in a magic world, but they don’t have much in the way of skills, so they have to use their ingenuity and the items to flee danger.
Could it be better? Yes. There really aren’t a lot of female characters, and “save the princess” seems kind of trite. Like, wouldn’t she be worthy of saving if she weren’t royal? If they value human life so cheaply, wouldn’t they also have female scouts? Also, the cardboard characters don’t really entice you to get wrapped up in their story. But the worldbuilding is fun. One never knows what wonder the heroes will encounter next.
This novel is quirky and fun and about people who are slightly exaggerated (but still believable). The story is funny and lighthearted while still managing to be sad enough to make me cry. (Is it reductionist to say it reminds me of Swedish films in that way?)
The novel centers on the relationship between almost-8-year-old Elsa and her Granny, a loud-living former doctor with a wild past. Granny and Elsa share a secret language and a wealth of made-up fairy tales about the Land-of-Almost-Awake, which, she learns, are all based on the real stories of the people who live in their apartment building.
As Elsa delivers letters to the people in the apartment, in which her Granny apologizes for transgressions, she learns more and more about the backgrounds of the people there. She also learns more about a real-life danger that is threatening the residents in general and her in particular.
What I liked about this novel was that it was different enough to make me feel like I was learning about how other people viewed the world, and yet familiar enough that I felt connected with the characters. The novel has elements of magical realism, for example, is the wurse a dog or not? Do they really go to the Land-of-Almost-Awake or do they just tell stories? Does Granny have a real secret language, or is it just like pig latin? I also liked how most of the people, even the ones who seem insufferable, are presented with enough of a good side that you like or at least start to sympathize with them.
This book takes place in New Zealand during the gold rush of the mid nineteenth century, a time and place I know almost nothing about. It begins when a young man stumbles to shore, frightened by a horrifying spectre he has seen on the ship. He picks the first hotel he finds and settles in, unknowing that he has inadvertently found a secret conclave of men who are meeting to discuss a mystery in which he himself has become entangled. How could anyone not be entranced by such an entrance?
This novel feels like it was written in the time in which it’s set. Catton really hits the tone of writers of that era. This makes you feel like you’re more involved with the story, makes the story feel more authentic, and is interesting. It’s also confusing, a bit tedious, and I got tired of the character Anna being called “the whore” in every other sentence. Catton nails the sexism, racism, and classism, but it got a little depressing to live in a place where society was set up even more obviously to promote the powerful at the expense of the marginalized. For example, a Chinese character is considered a more likely murder suspect by virtue of the fact that everyone knows Chinese people aren’t trustworthy. And when Anna is found passed out on the side of the road, she’s arrested and charged with attempted suicide. Evil people pick up newcomers straight off the boat, offer then hospitality, and then renege and say it wasn’t a gift so that they can own the poor sap as a debt-slave.
The theme of money and its evil influence resounds through the book. People are destroyed by gold or the lust for gold or (most frequently) by not having gold. They are all scoundrels to one extent or another. The other theme that resounds is astrology. The different sections of the book have astrological charts with the characters names in them. They’re lovely, done with nice handwriting and they look interesting, but even though I have a passing familiarity with astrology, I found them baffling and completely unnecessary. They might as well have been cartoon panthers for all they added to the story, yet I suspect that Catton wanted us to pull more significance from them. One of the characters does astrological charts for people, and event his wasn’t enough for me to connect astrology with any of the story elements. It was like when an author names characters after their pets; clearly of great significance to the author, but lost on me.
The carrot that kept me going through the 800 some pages of this book was the prospect of resolving the insanely complicated plot. There are half-brothers who have never met, identity theft, two stolen fortunes in gold, star-crossed lovers, a missing man, a mysterious murder, a couple of revenge pacts and one or two supernatural events. I wanted to find out what happened, and I also dearly wanted to see the evildoers punished and the young lovers united.
I would say that the plot resolution was about 85% satisfactory. The ending chapters were shorter and shorter and shorter, covering more story until the epigraph basically gave a huge plot synopsis. Some of the threads were resolved beautifully. Others were haphazard. A couple of the main murders were not solved, in my opinion. I don’t like “Lady or the Tiger” endings. I want to know without a doubt what happened. Okay, so he died because he drank the phial, but when did it happen? How did they get him to drink it? What was that scene like? Okay, so he died because the other guy managed to get the carriage door open. How did he do it? Why? What was his motivation and thought process? I was greedily devouring the last 100 pages, but when I turned the last page, I let out an involuntary grunt of disappointment. The prospect of having my questions answered kept me going, but I didn’t feel they were all answered to my satisfaction.
There were a couple of other semi-supernatural things which I felt did not help the story. An illiterate person understands a legal document and is able to sign someone else’s name in a way that is convincing enough to fool an expert. Why was that added? I like fantasy, and I like paranormal stories, but when the supernatural elements are kind of casual and unexplained, it’s distracting. Some of the plot elements which were in there seemed contrived and complicated. Actually, a lot of them were, but most of them were contrived and complicated in a good way. It’s just that at the 2/3rds mark, I wanted things to start winding down instead of getting more and more convoluted.
The characters are well-written, but unlikeable. The plot is fascinating, but not resolved as completely as I would have liked. The setting is unusual and fascinating, but also grim and depressing. I enjoyed most of this book, and I greatly admire the skill that went into creating it, but the let-down at the end when some mysteries remained unexplained disappointed me. I know that some of you are going to write comments that say “well, it was obvious, you see? Because of that throwaway line on page blah blah that clearly says blah blah” but I don’t want to read books twice to get the meaning I should get the first time. It’s not a light or easy read, and I wanted to be rewarded for my diligence by plot resolution. If Catton had wrapped up all the plots, and if Anna (who I believe is the main character) had a bit more of a personality, this would have been a masterpiece.
I finally got around to printing the pepper linocut tonight. My first mistake was to put down too much black ink. It turned out goopy, and the detail didn’t come out well. Also, I think that it looks better with red, because the solid one was a red pepper, and the lighter one was a …
This is my latest page in the art journal I’m sharing with my sister. I used copies of the notes I took at Clarion for the background, and the brown paper are tea-stained scraps of two short stories I wrote. The title of the piece is Rewriting: An Armful of Tomatoes. My analogy is that …