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A Classic Neighborhood Mystery

17 Aug

Summer is a time to curl up with a good mystery. Middle grade mysteries are not like BBC police shows. They are infinitely less gruesome, but they are as cerebral.

The Goldfish Boy, written by English author Lisa Thompson, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  In both tales, a person confined to a room, observes his neighborhood, and digs deep when a crime is committed.

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Goodreads Summary:Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

Because it is a middle grade novel, it wraps up happily and satisfactorily.

The Road to Bend

8 Aug

Way back in the Spring, a friend and I signed up for a union sponsored, all-expenses paid, leadership conference to be held in Bend, Oregon. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

A few weeks before the conference she called me, thinking she didn’t really want to go anymore. I didn’t want to be assigned a random roommate, so we looked into cancelling. Apparently, others have felt this way in the past and cancelling would cost us each $150. So, we made plans for the trip.

The day before we made plans on where to meet. Thinking I was being helpful, I suggested the Starbucks 3 blocks from my house. My friend has a history of being late and I figured I could enjoy my coffee while I waited. I could also leave my car at home and buy her a coffee, since she would be the driver. While talking on the phone, I looked up the address and read it off to her.

The next morning, I was at Starbucks about 5 minutes early, as is my wont. The deal was that, if she wasn’t there by 7:15, I would call her. I placed my order and picked up my Venti soy latte when it was ready. Little did I know that my first sip of the mocha, would foreshadow other little mistakes.

By 7:10, I was getting anxious… and then my phone rang.

“Where are you?” my friend asked.

Well, it turned out I had not really been paying attention the night before because I;d given her the WRONG address. She was at a Starbucks on Burnside Street, but several miles away. Why hadn’t I noticed that last night? I gave directions to my location and she arrived within a few minutes.

Once she had her coffee, we sat to plan the route. East over Mount Hood, then South? Or South down I-5, then east? We opted for the Mount Hood route and tried to plug in the hotel address to her phone. It wasn’t taking it, so we just typed in Bend, and loaded the car.

After three hours of conversation, the phone began giving us directions. We followed them until she said, “Arrived at Bend”.

We burst out laughing, remembering we hadn’t put in the hotel address. My friend did so and we were off and driving again. Except it still didn’t seem right. Maps had the hotel in the north end of Bend and the phone was sending us South. We knew we were int rouble and started laughing. I was  laughing so hard at one point, I couldn’t speak. My friend pulled over because she was laughing and had to go to the bathroom badly. An accident was imminent. We pulled ourselves together and carried on, after finding a bathroom.

The phone sent us off the highway and through a round about then told us to turn left, but the barrier in the road made us turn right. We pulled off and put in the hotel’s name, instead of the address and, miracle of miracles, we had new directions. we arrived within a few minutes. We registered and made it to the opening lunch, which had just begun, and sat down, hopeful that our misadventures were over.

Just for fun, her are some pictures from the trails near our hotel and conference center.

The Parking Lot

1 Aug

I’ve started thinking about my next car. I am hoping it will be my last car because, when it dies, I will be retired and hope to rely on public transport.

I’m thinking t will be a small car, a Mini Cooper or Fiat. Maybe a Honda Fit. I want my next car to fit into small parking spaces. And what I witnessed yesterday reaffirmed my commitment to a smaller car.

I had just exited Trader Joe’s and was walking through the parking lot to my car. I had parked at the far end of the parking lot, in the shade of a tree. (In case you hadn’t heard, we are having a heat wave).

It was already hot and I was thinking happy thoughts about blasting the AC. As I crossed the road in front of the store, a big, white SUV pulled into the same row my car was parked in. I turned down the row and stopped. The SUV driver was having a little trouble turning into a spot. The driver pulled forward, then backed up and cranked the steering wheel. The driver pulled forward some more and still didn’t fit, so s/he backed up again And then turned the tires the wrong way.

I was feeling impatient – it was a hot morning after all – but suddenly I had a feeling I was in for a show. Again the driver pulled forward and did not fit. Sheesh! They backed out again. Again they turned the tires the wrong way. They pulled forward some more and I think that was when the driver realized it was never going to work.

This must have been the moment they realized that, only one car away, were two empty spots side by side. An easy park! They backed up once more, but it was once too often.

I saw the collision coming before it happened. I think I might even have called out, but I don’t think the driver heard me over the crunch. They pulled forward and it only took two tries to fit in the new spot.

By then, I’d walked to my car. I passed the victim vehicle, a van that was hardly marked. I didn’t see the SUV driver get out. Didn’t see if they left a note on the van or not. Surely they felt the collision and would do the right thing.

As I drove out of the lot I passed the shiny new SUV that did the damage. There was a football sized dent on driver side bumper.

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A Strong YA Debut

28 Jul

While Angie Thomas is getting a lot of media attention for her debut novel The Hate U Give,  there is another debut novel you should read that addresses issues of immigration, assimilation, violence, and drug dealing in Detroit.

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Publisher’s Summary:

In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

American Street  is grittier than The Hate You Give.  Like Starr in The Hate U Give, the main character in American Street, Fabiola, is caught between two worlds. Woven throughout the narrative is Haitian Voodoo. And the narrative voice here is very strong. We spend a lot of time inside Fabiola’s head, where she is trying to make sense out of this strange world she finds herself in, and trying to find away to make her family whole again.

If you have read The Hate You Give,  be sure to pick up American Street.

True confessions of a car stalker

11 Jul

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I’ve designated myself the parking police.

I park on the street and it has suddenly become hard to get a parking spot. So, I have become a parking detective – and snitch.During the school year, I became anxious if traffic was bad, worried these new (and unknown) interlopers would hog a space.

City laws say that you have to move your car every 24 hours, so I began noting which cars didn’t move.   I looked a little further into parking regs and learned that the city has a parking hotline. Suddenly, I had a tool to handle my concerns.

I confess, I have only called on two cars. There are criteria that have to be met.

A vehicle that remains in violation for more than 24 hours and one or more of the following conditions exist:

A.    The vehicle does not have an unexpired registration plate, fails to display current registration, or does not have them lawfully affixed to the vehicle.

As an example a vehicle with a temporary registration or a TRIP permit counts as having current registration while the temporary registration or TRIP permit is valid and visible.

B.     The vehicle appears to be inoperative or disabled.

As an example a vehicle with a flat tire is inoperative, but a vehicle that might have an impairment that is not visible is not an Abandoned Vehicle.

C.    The vehicle appears to be wrecked, partially dismantled or junked.

As an example a vehicle with a missing windshield would be considered partially dismantled. A vehicle with a missing or damaged door window would not be considered wrecked, partially dismantled, or junked as it could still be legally operated on public highways.

In both cases where I called, bright green tow warnings appeared. In the first case, the vehicle was moved. In the second case, it was towed on July 1st, almost a month after I called. Apparently Portland also has a problem with abandoned vehicles and has a backlog.

There are a couple of other vehicles I am watching. Two have been moved twice since the tow happened. One has been sitting for over a month. It’s plates are good through August. I am also vigilant about my own car and, make sure that if I don’t go anywhere, I move my car so no one thinks I’ve abandoned it.

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Thinking about home

3 Jul

Because July 1st fell on Saturday, today is a statutory holiday for Canadians, giving most a long weekend, the first of summer.

Since today is an extension of Canada Day, I want to talk about my favorite Canadian picture book of 2017.

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Publisher’s Summary: A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea. Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig.

With curriculum connections to communities and the history of mining, this beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town will enthrall children and move adult readers.

Why do I love this book?

*Sydney Smith’s beautiful illustrations.

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Good illustrations add a depth to the text and Smith’s do just that. The simplicity and openness of the young narrator’s life is contrasted beautifully with that of his father, a coal miner.

*Joanne Schwartz’s text is spare but evocative. The repetition of  “it goes like this—” invites the reader along for the journey in the life of this boy, this family, this town.

Although young readers’ lives might be very different from the narrator’s, Town Is By The Sea invites its readers to reflect on the pace, rhythm and events of their daily lives.

Is this illegal?

20 Jun

I had a list of errands a mile long. That’s why I was sitting in my car, in front of the library, waiting for it to open. I was running a bit ahead of schedule, but, as this was only stop number two of eight, I wasn’t cocky over over-confident. I knew this was temporary.

I had a few minutes to kill, so, as I sat listening to The Underground Railroad, I decided to look through my wallet to see what Items I should remove before my upcoming trip to Chicago. I usually only like to carry the cards I need, and an emergency credit card. As I riffled through the items tucked into pockets, my eyes caught sight of my car insurance card, and they bugged out of my head. The expiration date was two weeks ago.

I calmed myself down, closed my eyes and tried to remember if the new cards had come in the mail. I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye, but remembered receiving the list of   E-Z Pay dates and amounts that would be deducted from my account. Okay,  I thought, calming a little, they haven’t closed my account, so I’m still good.

I tried to remember receiving the big envelope that arrives annually, but couldn’t. That didn’t mean it hadn’t come. Knowing they were planning to deduct the payments, I was sure it had to be at home. I was nervous, but planned to look for the cards as soon as I got home. If they were there, they’d be in one of two places.

The library opened and I got my holds. Driving to complete the next six errands, I was nervous, worrying that, with an expired insurance card in my car, this would be the time something happened. Nothing did.

When I got home I looked in the first of the two places…and there was that lovely large envelope that I;d never opened. I tore it open and there were the cards. I carefully tore along the perforations and put one card in my wallet and another in an enveloped labelled  INSURANCE 2017-18, to be placed in the glove compartment later. Then, I sat, and finally relaxed.

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