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April 2020

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge: 2020-2021

Beat the Backlist 2020



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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: 04/30/20

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Robin Mayhall is the seventh of the My Boyfriend is a Monster graphic novel series. This one is a reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde.

Serena Stevens is newly moved to Rojo Texas, a small town completely obsessed with football. After she attends one of the games with her friend, she finds herself with two interested boys. There's outgoing football star Lance, and reclusive and mostly homeschooled Cam.

Serena initially falls for Lance. He's at first glance, charming, athletic, and handsome. But he's also controlling, dismissive, and rude. Cam comes across as shy, sickly, and secretive. But he's also polite, smart, and more in tune with her interests and feelings.

As this is a football obsessed town, the Lance and Cam split stems from the game and from the terrible things adults will do to children to live vicariously through them.

I personally found both Cam and Lance problematic as potential love interests. This is me as a forty-something adult with twenty/twenty hindsight. Of course the source material too is similar. Dr. Jekyll was looking for a way to release his inner asshole.

Four stars

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Gone with the Whisker: 04/29/20

Gone with the Whisker

Gone with the Whisker by Laurie Cass is the eighth book in the Bookmobile Cat mystery series. It's July and Minnie's niece, Kate, is visiting from Florida. She's hoping they'll spend the summer bonding, but not over a murder investigation! Unfortunately they each discover a body.

The only thing the two victims appear to have in common is a single bookmobile stop. Minnie has her theories and Kate has others. Both have nightmares over what they've seen. The stress of the situation threatens to drive the two apart.

Much of the novel, maybe a third or even close to half, is focused on the changes in Minnie's life and her desire to be the cool aunt.

On the homefront, Minnie is preparing to move in with Rafe. Her cousin is now running the boarding house and Minnie won't be living there in the winter.

With Kate, she's having trouble making a connection. Kate seems moody and flighty. She'd rather go to bed early and sleep in late, and play on her tablet, than spend time with Minnie. Yet, from her friends she hears how responsible her niece is at her summer jobs.

On the mystery front, the clues are there for the observant reader. The solution isn't as easy as previous books in the series, but it's a logical and satisfying one.

Five stars

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The Haunting of Vancouver Island: 04/28/20

The Haunting of Vancouver Island

The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn is a tour guide of rumored haunted locations on Vancouver Island and nearby islands. The book is organized geographically, starting down at the southern end of the island, and working up and out from there.

I heard about this book on Facebook a month or so before it was first published. Last year when we were planning our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary road trip I purchased a copy. My plan was to read the book and note down interesting places to visit during our week on the island.

Unfortunately COVID-19 has shelved our plans. We must stay in California. The events along the way are all understandably cancelled. Disappointment and worry about the future has clouded my reading enjoyment.

The first chapter, as well, soured my potential enjoyment of this book. Not completely, but enough to re-contextualize subsequent chapters.

Before I pass judgment one way or the other on the book of the whole, I plan to re-read it when it's possible to do our trip. Whenever that's possible, I revisit The Haunting of Vancouver Island

Three stars

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Nate Expectations: 04/27/20

Nate Expectations

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle is the conclusion to the Better Nate Than Ever series which began in 2013. Having not received a single Tony nomination and with dwindling ticket sales, E.T. the Musical has stopped its run and Nate is back home.

While Nate was in New York his school changed. The auditorium was torn down for a new gym. Drama is no more. And everyone now know about Nate and he's being treated like a minor celebrity.

But Nate's biggest struggle while he's back at school is an English assignment. The teacher in his last year before retirement has seen everything and has grown very jaded, yet he's once again assigning Great Expectations which the students have to read and then present in a new and creative way.

Nate still high on the excitement of acting on Broadway decides to turn the book into a musical and cast the other students in it. The musical takes on a life of its own but manages to bring everyone together. It also helps to sell the importance of the arts in the school. That's not to say that it's a success.

It was a fun read, even if at first I was disappointed to be back at the high school. It was nice to see that Nate had matured while in New York.

Four stars

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The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris: 04/26/20

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan is a very hard book to listen to. It opens with Anna Trent losing her toes in a chocolate factory accident. The first many chapters are her time in hospital and her recovery. Interspersed with that are the flashback chapters of her former teacher who is now dying of cancer.

Somewhere in the middle of all this very graphic melodrama is the story of Anna Trent going to work for the chocolatier who Claire (the teacher) knows and has a bittersweet (pun intended) history with.

The problem is, the story of a tiny chocolate shop around the corner from Notre Dame is lost in all this nonsense about Anna's toes. I understand that a woman set in her ways and comfortable with a rather boring routine needs jolt in her life to suddenly decide to up and move to Paris.

But the toes plot was over done. To then play it off thematically with a tale of missed love and one last chance to reunite before cancer takes its final toll was too much.

If I had read the book in print, I would have done a ton of skimming. Instead, though, I listened to the audiobook and skimming that way is harder. I admit, though, to speeding up the audio speed.

Three stars

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Ghost Squad: 04/25/20

Ghost Squad

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega is a middle grade urban fantasy set in St. Augustine Florida. Lucely Luna, a Domican-American, and her father run a ghost tour. Recently business isn't good enough to keep up with the mortgage. Although it's been their family home for hundreds of years, the mortgage was taken out to make hurricane repairs. Lucely and her best-friend Sal will work together to save the house.

In the vast majority of middle grade fantasy novels I've read the protagonist starts ignorant of the magic around them, even if the rest of their family are working with magic, fighting monsters, busting ghosts, etc. Lucely and Sal, though, are different. From the very first page it's made clear that they are aware of the ghosts and magic in their city. Lucely's home is full of generations of family ghosts who also take the form of fireflies in the huge tree that is part of the yard. Meanwhile, Sal's grandmother is a known witch.

Since magic is known to both girls, no time is lost in introducing the second big threat to Lucely's life: the prophesy of a monster's arrival on the next big storm. Her only way of saving her ghostly ancestors and St. Augustine is to learn the history of Las Brujas Moradas.

With the St. Augustine's nautical history it's no surprise that the novel is peppered with Goonies references. That's including a magical cat named Chunk. There's treasure hunting in old cemeteries and other historical locations. There's also ghostbusting!

Lucely and Sal's adventures also fit into the road narrative spectrum. As with many POC narratives, the emphasis is on the family traveler (33). Here, family is stronger in the journey taken than any individual traveler. Lucely is traveling (albeit metaphorically as she never leaves her city) to save her family and with the help of her ghostly ancestors. Sal is traveling with this help of her grandmother.

Their destination is uhoria (or out of time) (CC). Here the uhoria is metaphorical, represented in a number of ways. First there are the ghosts of Lucely's ancestors. Next there is the history of St. Augustine which they research in search for a solution. Finally there is the treks to different cemeteries and other historical locations seeking spells and clues.

The route Lucely and Sal take is the Blue Highway (33). These are the established routes that aren't interstates or railroads. A quick look on Google Maps verifies that there are literally no interstates that go through the town. The narrative, though, also mentions nothing of the sort. Instead the roads are older, having grown along with the town over the decades.

All together, Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega can be summed up as being about family travelers going to uhoria via the Blue Highway.

Five stars

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The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home: 04/24/20

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor  is the third Night Vale novel. This one fleshes out the titular character, diving into the story of her life, her death, and her transcendence. Not bad for a character who began as a gag in Episode 14 - The Man in the Tan Jacket. She's mentioned during the "Word from our sponsors" bit:

Today’s program has been sponsored by the physical act of gulping. For thousands of years, gulping has been there for human beings when they needed an expressive gesture of the throat. Whether you want to indicate nervousness about an upcoming test or appointment, fear of the Faceless Old Woman who lives secretly in your home, or just want to ingest milk faster than with regular swallowing, gulping is the way to go.

Most of this novel is set on and around the Mediterranean sea in the late 1700s and through the 1800s, except for some modern day (2015 and 2020) monologues by the Faceless old Woman.

The woman never names herself. She gives her origin as an island estate in the Mediterranean sea where she and her father lived. The estate has fallen on hard times and she learns over the course of her childhood that her father has turned to smuggling to make ends meet.

From the places he's described going, and later from her travels, it's established that their Europe is the alternate dimension one that Night Vale exists in.

Throughout the narrator's life, she describes seeing a strange figure of a man. He seems to fit the basic physical appearance as the Thistle Man in Alice Isn't Dead (2018).

Chart showing the three Night Vale novels in relation to each other on the RDS

As with all of Fink's novels, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home sits on the road narrative spectrum. Looking just at the Night Vale books, we see a tight triangle in the horror end of the spectrum. Namely, the horror comes from a fantastical route.

Like It Devours!, the traveler is a privileged one (00). Ultimately that traveler is the narrator who gains through experience the ability to be in all places at once, but early on it's the sailors of the Order of the Labyrinth.

Like Welcome to Night Vale, the destination is uhoria (CC). The narrator manages to exist well beyond her own lifetime. She also, of course, ends up in Night Vale, a place defined in part by it's alternative take on how time works.

But like It Devours, the narrator's path is through the labyrinth (99). It is also inspired and driven and misguided by it. The Order of the Labyrinth ships are her initial inspiration to take up a life of smuggling. Later her realization that the Order is timeless and uninterested in the ways of mankind leads her to her route, one driven on a desire for revenge. It is that thirst for revenge which leads her to her home(s) in Night Vale.

All together, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home is a novel of privileged travelers going to and through uhoria via the labyrinth (00CC99).

Four stars

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Shadow of the Batgirl: 04/23/20

Shadow of the Batgirl

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux is a graphic novel origin story for Cassandra Cain as Bat Girl. It begins with her on the street, having slipped away from her father. She leaves a man for dead who asks her to think about his daughter. The idea that a father could love his daughter forces her to rethink her limited understanding of the world.

Cassandra is befriended first by Jackie who runs a ramen shop. After a month in shelter in place, Nicole Goux's rendering of this fictional ramen is mouth-watering. In any normal year I'd go out for some right now. But I can't.

She also finds a safe-haven in the local public library. The library, by the way has some gorgeous multi-level establishing panels that are worthy of framing. Of course with the library, Barbara Gordon must be close by.

Shadow of the Batgirl comes before Gordon takes on the new secret identity as Oracle. She is shown building her digital archive in her off hours at the library. For most of the novel, Gordon's work is in the background of Cassandra's time in the library.

Cassandra's final mentor in this transition period is Erik. He's a page at the library. He's known for being a jock. He's on the football team. But he's also an avid reader of romances (like my husband) and wants to be a writer.

Shadow of the Batgirl is a quick and enjoyable read. I will be reading Barbara Gordon's story soon. The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano (Illustrations) released in March.

Five stars

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Death by Tea: 04/22/20

Death by Tea

Death by Tea by Alex Erickson is the second in the Bookstore Café mystery series. Krissy Hancock's cafe and bookstore is over-run with out of town mystery lovers. There's an intercity book club competition and this year the book they're dueling over is one of her father's mysteries.

It's going to be a crazy busy week. It'll mean good business but it also means people tearing apart her father's least favorite book. And then things get worse when one of the competitors is found murdered in the store, his head bashed in with the trophy. Worse yet, Krissy is the prime suspect.

The identity of the actual murderer is frankly pretty obvious. Krissy, though, is distracted by her awful neighbor who seems to take sick pleasure in spreading rumors and calling the police on her. She also has to contend with Officer John Buchannan who wants to see her get in trouble.

Despite the obvious murder, the book was still fun to listen to. Krissy doesn't embrace her role as amateur sleuth the way most cozy main characters do. She is also the most distracted lead I've read. But these aren't character flaws per se, just a different approach to the genre.

The third book in the series is Death by Pumpkin Spice (2016).

Four stars

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Heartwood Hotel: Home Again: 04/21/20

Heartwood Hotel: Home Again

Heartwood Hotel: Home Again by Kallie George is the conclusion of the series. Mrs. Prickles is getting married to Mr. Quillson but their festivities at the hotel are cut short by an approaching forest fire. It's best to evacuate before lives are lost. Will the tree be there after the fire?

Before needing to evacuate, Mona meets a mouse from a neighboring hotel who might be her aunt. She certainly knows about Mona's parents in ways that Mona herself can't recall. Mona decides to with the mouse to the Inn Between, figuring she might be family.

Like the previous three books, Home Again is situated on the road narrative spectrum. Taken together the four almost complete a triangle through with the last book being an adjustment or prime to the initial narrative state.

As the focus is once again on Mona's history and the deaths of her parents, she is the novel's orphan traveler (FF). The destination or goal is again home (66) but this time it's not a new home. Home for Mona is the Heartwood Hotel and the only reason she's leaving it is the danger of the forest fire. Her route, though, is what sets this book off from the first book, A True Home (2017)

Chart showing the progression of the four books through the road narrative spectrum.

In the previous three books, Mona travels offroad to get to her destination. In the first book, it's via flood waters and muddy paths. In the second book, it's through the snow. In the third book, it's through the forest.

Now, though, her route back to the Heartwood Hotel is more than an offroad one. Instead, it's through the labyrinth (99). The forest fire, while the driving force for much of the plot, doesn't ultimately pose an immediate threat to her. Other so-called dangers on her path, including a fox, end up not posing a life or death danger. Without blind alleys or other true dangers, the maze like path she takes can only be a labyrinthine one.

All together, the Heartwood Hotel series ends on the tale of an orphan leaving her home and returning to it via the labyrinth to learn about her past and to save her new family (FF6699).

Four stars

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Dear Martin: 04/20/20

Dear Martin

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is about Justyce McAllister, months away from being Ivy League bound. Things start to go bad for him when he's arrested for assaulting a drunk white woman. The reality, though, is she's his girl friend and dangerously drunk. He was trying to stop her from driving her car. Racial profiling, though, makes reading a situation impossible.

Justyce vents about his situation through letters to Dr. Martin Luther King. He's the Martin in the title. Much of the plot progression happens in these letters. Frankly the entire book would have been stronger as an epistolary novel.

Then there are extended passages of dialog involving white boys at his high school. These are rendered as screenplay dialogue. With three competing forms of narration I found myself distracted even though the narrative was raw and rage inducing.

The sequel Dear Justyce is scheduled for release on October 6, 2020. I am planning on reading it.

Three stars

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This is Rome: 04/19/20

This is Rome

This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek is third in the This is... series. This time the tour is of Rome, in late 1950s. The version I read was the 2007 reprint. Interestingly, this book has had the least number of footnotes, showing that whether it's a millennium or a few decades, Rome doesn't change much.

Sasek noticed that too, and in his text and illustrations, he compares ancient Rome to modern (well, 1950s) Rome. He will show a historic statue or building and draw a parallel to a modern equivalent.

A man in a baseball cap standing near a Roman statue

The next in the series is This is New York (1960)

Five stars

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Stand Up, Yumi Chung!: 04/18/20

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim is a contemporary middle grade novel set in the Korea Town district of Los Angeles. Yumi's family runs a Korean BBQ and as the younger daughter, she's struggling to be her own authentic self when everything she does is compared against her older sister's outstanding accomplishments.

Our first glimpse of Yumi is in the hair salon. She wants a pixie cut. Her mother and the hairdresser override her and stick her with yet another perm. She uses her time under the perm machine to think up new jokes for her comedy routine. Her passion in life is stand-up and sketch comedy. But she knows she's expected to be a doctor or a lawyer.

Money is tight at home. Recent building projects on the outskirts of the neighborhood have left the older core with dwindling customers. Plus Yumi's parents have spent tons of money on medical school tuition the older sister, cram school and private school tuition for Yumi.

Yumi, though, has found a temporary escape in the form of a summer comedy camp. There's just one problem, the teacher thinks she's a Japanese American kid named Kay Nakamura. When she fails to correct the teacher on the first day, she runs with it.

The remainder of the novel is Yumi trying to find the right balance between following her passion and being a daughter her parents are proud of. In the middle of all of that she learns just how bad things really are for her parents, and how genuinely unhappy her sister is. The confrontation between Yumi and her sister reminds me of a similar scene in the anime/manga Silver Spoon.

Yumi thankfully has a tenacity similar to Mia Tang in Front Desk (2018). She's a delightful and relatable main character. I would love to see the further adventures of Yumi and her family. Regardless, I will definitely read future novels by Jessica Kim.

Five stars

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The Underground Railroad: 04/17/20

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is at first glance, historical fiction about slavery during the running of the underground railroad. Cora, a slave on a plantation in Georgia decides to escape via the railroad after it is described to her by Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia.

Instead of the railroad being a metaphor for a series of connected safe houses along a route northward to the free states and ultimately Canada, Colson Whitehead imagines a literal underground railroad with cars that take riders not only to different cities but to different times.

Cora's journey takes her forward in time through other atrocities freed Blacks would live through in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

Cora's journey is also mapped on the road narrative spectrum. If her story were to start with her as an adult, her entire character would be framed against her marginalization as a slave. Instead, though, her origin story is given, including how she is orphaned and how that experience changes her. She is, therefore, an orphan traveler (FF).

Her destination, while ultimately freedom, is done through the bounds of time (CC). She is traveling through uhoria on her way. While she is unaware, for the most part, of her temporal travels, the reader will be.

Her route, is a literal railroad. Like Suzy in The Train to Impossible Places, Cora's trains travel in impossible ways. They time travel and their routes seem to appear when they are needed. Their tunnels also seem able to change on a whim, in ways reminiscent of those in Nagspeak.

Four stars

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Dragon Hoops: 04/16/20

Dragon Hoops

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang chronicles Yang's last year of teaching at Bishop O'Dowd high school in Oakland. During that year he shadowed the boy's basketball team as they tried to go to State after years of misses.

I knew from American Born Chinese (2006) that Yang was local to me, meaning broadly, San Francisco Bay Area. I hadn't appreciated just how local until I read Dragon Hoops. He covers familiar places and familiar towns. Our local high school is even mentioned.

Dragon Hoops is the longest book Yang has written, as far as I can tell. It's 440 pages. Despite it's length it's also one of the best and most compelling reads I've read by him.

The book has three nonfictional narrative threads. The first is the Dragon's 2015 championship bid. The second is the history of basketball and its spread around the world. The third is Yang's transition from full time teacher and part time graphic novelist to full time graphic novelist/comic book author.

Like Yang, I wasn't a sports person in school. I'm still not. Like Yang, I'm an artist. Through this book, through his asides about the sport's development, through his interviews with the players and coaches, and through his own memoir elements, I felt myself cheering for the Dragons (even though they are rivals of our high school).

Of course, with the book covering a five year old event, one can easily Google the outcome. I hope you don't. Let the momentum Yang builds carry you along. Let yourself get excited. Let your self cheer them.

Five stars

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Verse and Vengeance: 04/15/20

Verse and Vengeance

Verse and Vengeance by Amanda Flower is fourth in the Magical Bookshop Mystery series. Violet Wavery has agreed (reluctantly) to participate in the Tour de Cascade race, along side her boyfriend David Rainwater. Meanwhile P.I. Joel Redding is back and making a pest of himself, until he's found dead near the end of the race.

With the bad blood between Violet and Joel, she's at the top of the list of suspects. To clear her name, Violet is once again investigating a murder. This time the clues point to her part-time teaching job at the university. Her favorite student seems to have ties to the murdered man, and now she's missing.

The book that the bookshop has chosen is Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Of course the lines the books open to give a mixture of clues to Joel's death, as well a larger historical mystery. There's evidence that Whitman visited the town and his stay might be what's needed to boost funding for the beleaguered city hall.

In the background of the investigation there is more history about the tree at the heart of Charming Books as well as the different caretakers that have come before Violet and her grandmother. If this series continues, eventually Violet will have to share her secret with David.

Five stars

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No Mallets Intended: 04/14/20

No Mallets Intended

No Mallets Intended by Victoria Hamilton is the fourth of the Vintage Kitchen mysteries. With money from the Button letter found in A Deadly Grind (2012), the Queensville Heritage Society has purchased Dumpe Manor. The home will be transformed into a museum, with each of the rooms being furnished by one of the members. Jaymie, of course, has the kitchen. A collection of vintage mallets found in the house provide the perfect weapon to knock Jaymie unconscious.

The attack on Jaymie is the first in a string of strange events at Dumpe Manor. They culminate in the murder of the resident historian. Was it to keep him from writing unkind things about the family history or is there really treasure locked away in the house?

No Mallets Intended has a good mixture of clues and red herrings. There are enough people with motive to make solving this mystery interesting. It also ends with a thrilling chase that changes the direction of the series.

The fifth book is White Colander Crime (2015).

Five stars

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The Unbinding of Mary Reade: 04/13/20

The Unbinding of Mary Reade

The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara is historical fiction inspired by a woman who disguised herself as a man to be a pirate and sailed with Anne Bonny and Calico Jack — and then fell in love with Anne.

Mary, going by the name Mark, is working on a merchant ship in the Caribbean. They have fled an abusive mother, a wealthy but horrible grandmother, and a playboy boyfriend. All of this is provided as backstory flashbacks for anyone interested. I frankly found that these scenes interrupted the more interesting and fast paced present day story.

The one disappointment with Mark is that I just wanted him to be Mark, rather than so quickly going back to using Mary as a name whenever the masculine clothing was off. If Mark had always though of themself as Mary even when living and working as a man it would be a very different thing. But there are long passages throughout the book where Mark thinks long and hard about how they don't feel like a woman even when dressed and named as one. And yet, put on a dress or take off clothes all together, and suddenly the dead name is back as if nothing had happened.

Four stars

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Lyle and the Birthday Party: 04/12/20

Lyle and the Birthday Party

Lyle and the Birthday Party by Bernard Waber is the third of the Lyle the Crocodile books which I'm re-reading for nostalgia.

Joshua has a birthday party and Lyle isn't his usual charming self. He's sullen and grumpy. It takes a while but Mrs. Primm figures out that he's envious of all the attention.

Of the ones I've re-read it's my least favorite. There's a point in picture book series where beloved characters turn into mouthpieces for lessons in morality or social mores. That's what basically happened here.

The fourth book is Lovable Lyle (1969)

Three stars

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The Empress of Salt and Fortune: 04/11/20

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo is a slim but dense story set in a fantasy realm similar to ancient China. It's told over the course of a day or so of sojourning at a disused mansion. In it's narrative structure it is similar to Conrad's Heart of Darkness but not in tone, or thankfully, unnecessary complexity.

A cleric and their magical bird have come to rest on their way to record an eclipse. They are given shelter by an old woman named Rabbit. She offers them a place to stay if they help clear out the store rooms while listening to her tales of the Empress In-Yo, exiled from the North.

Thus it's through these conversations and monologues that the tale of a young woman sent from the North to a harsh life in the Imperial Court. Each story is tied to some aspect of the house — a room, a piece of ephemera, an antique, a game the two play while chatting. And each story ends with a question, some variation on "Do you understand?"

The cleric says they do at the end of each story. Rabbit, though, only truly accepts this answer at the end. The astute reader will also be asked if they understand. Pay attention. What is the truth behind Rabbit's story?

Four stars

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The Electric Heir: 04/10/20

The Electric Heir

The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee is the conclusion to the Feverwake duology that began with Fever King (2019). It's six months after the overthrow of the Carolinia government and the Atlantians have gained citizenship. Lehrer, no longer king, is chancellor and Noam has been his lover in the absence of Dara.

But cracks are beginning to show in this post coup life. Noam has realized how much Lehrer has been controlling him, using mind magic to gaslight him. He finds a way to protect himself but he's still stuck in an abusive relationship even if he's no longer being mind controlled.

Meanwhile Dara's working for the resistance. The goal is rid Carolinia of Lehrer once and for all. It's a high order for a man who is well guarded and essentially immortal.

Chart showing the progression on the spectrum between the two books. Click for a larger version.

From the perspective of the Road Narrative Spectrum, The Electric Heir signals a shift in our understanding of the post pandemic world of the Feverwake. In the first book, the narrative was framed in the perspective of Noam, a recent orphan and survivor of the illness, now with newly acquired magical abilities. In The Electric Heir the narrative POV is shared between Noam and Dara, and is re-contextualized given what we've learned about both of them over the course of the duology.

The Electric Heir has two travelers, Noam and Dara, who as travelers share the minotaur / scarecrow (99) dichotomy. While most of the book isn't a road narrative, the means to their desired goal is within a journey to Texas, specifically to its capital city (00). The routes taken are off-road ones (66). All together this second book is about the journey of a scarecrow and minotaur to the city via offroad routes (990066).

As the goal remains the city between books, the change in spectrum placement is nearly flat, shifting from the most powerful of the fantasy travelers to the least. Both books also skim right above the area where horror is defined and this duology certainly does have elements of horror (pandemic, dystopian society, mind control, etc.).

Victoria Lee's next book is A Lesson in Vengeance and is scheduled for publication sometime in 2021.

Four stars

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The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three: 04/09/20

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino is the conclusion of the Earth Empire election arc. It's also the time for Kuvira to prove her good intentions.

With all of the good guys under the influence of Commander Guan and Dr. Sheng's brainwashing device, it's up to Kuvira to get help. It takes a lot of doing but she does eventually manage. It's also a chance for Toph to show she's still the best earth bender around.

The plot is fast paced but has moments of tenderness and vulnerability for all the characters. It's a time for characters to show they can take chances and they can mend fences.

Five stars

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Mimi Lee Gets a Clue: 04/08/20

Mimi Lee Gets a Clue

Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer J. Chow is the start of the Sassy Cat mystery series. Mimi Lee on her opening day of Hollywoof, a dog groomers in West L.A., she's given a beautiful white Persian cat with striking blue eyes. What she doesn't expect, and who would, is that he can talk. Imagine if you will, Meowth in a Persian body.

Mimi's first two customers happen to be owners of Chihuahuas. Both appear to have something wrong with their legs. She gets curious, expecting that there's a puppy mill working nearby. She gets the breeder's info and goes to visit. It's as bad as she expected and she makes a complaint to the police.

The next morning, she's visited by a homicide detective because the breeder was murdered sometime after she left. With eyewitness reports from his neighbors and her complaint on file, she is the prime suspect! Can she and Marshmallow the cat, solve the murder before she's formally charged?

This inaugural volume is like a happy blending of the Kitty Couture series by Julie Chase and the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien. The setting, though, is in familiar Los Angeles and takes full advantage of the setting. The 405 is as much a character as the Mimi and Marshmallow are.

I am now eagerly awaiting the second book, Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines which releases November 10, 2020.

Five stars

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Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy: 04/07/20

Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy

Ascender, Volume 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen is the start of a new series that builds on the story arc completed in the six book series, Descender. As of this review, I haven't read any of the original books but plan to rectify that before I review Ascender, Volume 2.

It's ten years later and magic has replaced technology. More precisely, magic has systematically destroyed and banned technology. There are some refugees and they live on the fringe of the fringe. Everyone else is beholden to Mother.

Mila, the daughter of Andy and Effie from the previous series lives in the wilds with Andy. She spends her time exploring the wilderness until she tries to head into town. Trouble follows her home in the form of a robot.

The rest of book one is Andy and ultimately Effie's flight. They need to leave the area that had been safe for them. Their journey is padded with backstory, which I gather should serve as either a clips episode for important pieces from Descender or as a bridging piece between the series.

Having come to Ascender without reading Descender, I will admit to being confused in spots. Early on, I was also unimpressed by the artwork. Many of the characters seemed interchangeable to me. It took until the last third or so before I was actually invested in the plot and characters.

Three stars

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When Katie Met Cassidy: 04/06/20

When Katie Met Cassidy

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri is a romance between two women lawyers. They meet on opposite sides of a negotiation with a sexual and professional tension that reminds me of Adam's Rib (1949).

Katie has just broken up with her long time boyfriend, expecting a proposal, but getting dumped instead. She's never been interested in women before but there's something about Cassidy's butch confidence and her bespoke suits that gets under her skin.

Cassidy, meanwhile, isn't looking to settle down. She's a player. She figures Katie will be a fun fling. Except, Katie doesn't react like all the other women she's known.

In the middle of all of this, is a lesbian bar that is on it's last legs. It's going to be a victim of gentrification. It's also Katie's first exploration of feelings she didn't know she had and a new source of friends for her. It's a place for Cassidy and Katie to bond.

I half expected the back half of the plot to be the two women using their real estate law knowledge to broker a new deal to save the bar. That's not the direction the book takes. The closure of the bar instead is a signal for Cassidy to change her life and to consider a longer term relationship.

The book is enjoyable but I'm a little disappointed in how Cassidy's masculine attire and appearance isn't explored further. Cassidy reads more as an enby or maybe a demi-boy. But this book has a very cut and dry gender binary save for a few throw away lines. More could have been done.

Four stars

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If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur: 04/05/20

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold is a mashup between paleontology and art history. It begins with the supposition: what if Leonardo da Vinci painted dinosaurs instead of people? From there the book works through other periods of art and other artists, applying the same question.

Da Vinci, being the inspiration for the book gets two dinosaur pieces. There is the Vitruvian dinosaur and then there is Mona Lisa as a dinosaur, sitting before an ancient backdrop resplendent with a lava flow.

There is Matisse, Edgar Degas, Cassius Coolidge (of the poker playing dogs fame), Mary Cassatt, Baishi, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Franz Marc, Harrison Begay, Alma Thomas, Aaron Douglas, Mark Rothko, Lois Mailou Jones, Marguerite Zorach, and Edvard Munch included in the book. It's a fun jaunt through a variety of styles, artists and time periods, with the bonus of all these dinosaurs.

I found the book during my research for a summer art camp I taught on birds and dinosaurs. This ended up being the central focus to my approach when planning projects to do with the children.

Five stars

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We Are the Wildcats: 04/04/20

We Are the Wildcats

We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian takes place in twenty-four hours leading up to the first scrimmage of the year for the girls' field hockey team. During a night of pranks the team will become closer than ever and learn some unsettling things about their coach.

Traditionally the captain hosts a sleepover for the team for a night of bonding. In the past all the night's events would be at the captain's house. There would be a catered meal, a speech, a movie, and lights out by ten.

But not this year.

Coach's unexpected arrival throws the plans into disarray. He makes a speech stating his disappointment in the team. Had he stopped there, the rest of the novel would have been about the girls deciding to do a multistep prank to reenact the lines to their fight song.

There's a scene upstairs after the speech that as an adult made me see clearly that Coach wasn't the perfect person the Wildcats players perceived him to be. He asks for the number from one of the youngest players on the team and then gives her his. It's the start of a plan where he wants her spying on the rest of the team and reporting back to him.

No adult in a place of leadership, especially for a team of minors, should play one member against the others. No adult should ask a minor, even one who is close to becoming an adult, to keep a secret. There's too much at stake for the minor.

While I can see that, a teen reading We Are the Wildcats might not. They will discover how devious adults who have their trust can, unfortunately, be. It will be an eye-opening read.

Four stars

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All the Birds in the Sky: 04/03/20

All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is about a friendship and rivalry and romance between a witch and a mad scientist. It opens when the two are children and coming into their callings and it ends years later in San Francisco when they are established adults.

Patricia Delfine learns of her powers through a meeting with the birds. It's a long and poetic scene, one that reminds me of Katherine Lundy's passage into the Goblin Market in In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (2019).

Laurence Armstead is ostracized for his interest in science and engineering. Of course later both will be an asset, but it's weird for a little kid. He reminds me of a younger version of the present-day Alec Sadler. Like older Alec, Laurence is destined to be a dystopian super-power unto himself.

Like Red and Blue in This is How You Lose the Time War (2019), Patricia and Laurence are destined to be on opposite sides of a world-end battle. Except their friendship keeps getting in the way of the powers that be. If the world is saved it's because two stubborn kids grew up to be two stubborn adults and refused to do what they were told.

The novel also fits into the road narrative spectrum. The two main characters do ultimately become a couple and therefore count as such for the traveler (33). Their destination is San Francisco, aka The City (00). Their route is a convoluted one filled with blind alleys and confusing choices — essentially a form of the maze (CC). Altogether in terms of the spectrum, it's the tale of a couple making their way to the city via the maze (3300CC).

There's a sequel, Clover which was also released in 2016.

Three stars

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Go to Sleep (I Miss You): 04/02/20

Go to Sleep (I Miss You)

Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley is the follow up to Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos (2019). While it's another memoir, this one is more of a single panel comic interspersed with some sketches. The change in the art is part of the message: being a mother of a baby is physically and mentally draining.

Being an artist and a mother as well, I'm frankly amazed she produced a book. I ended up essentially taking ten years off from my painting, doing only digital art, while my children were little.

Each page is a scene out of a day in the life of being a new parent. There are pages on what it's like to breast feed that are funny and relatable. There are scenes on what it's like carrying a baby in sling in different seasons. Sometimes it's awkward because of jackets. Sometimes it's unbearable because of the heat.

Although the artwork is simpler than her other recent books, her ability to capture key pieces of a person's character is there. The blunt humor is also still there.

Her next book is Stepping Stones a graphic novel that seems to draw inspiration from Relish (2013). It releases May 5, 2020.

Five stars

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March 2020 Sources: 04/02/20

Previous month's book sources

March was the start of the shelter in place order because of COVID-19. It started out with us picking up our puppy but by the end of the first week it was clear we would be sheltering in place. The official order came on the 13th and has been extended through June something.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In March I read 12 TBR books. I also read four books published in February. Four books were for research. Two were from the library. My ROOB score was slightly higher but by an insignificant amount (-2.36 vs February's -2.38).

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

March 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. The actual graph though from February to March is nearly flat. With library books out of the picture for COVID-19, I predict a lowering of the curve for April.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for March decreased slightly from -2.20 to -2.21.

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The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane: 04/01/20

The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane

The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane by Carolyn Keene is the sixteenth of the Nancy Drew Diaries. Nancy is hired by a classmate because a mutual friend has been acting weird after exploring an abandoned and rumored-to-be-haunted house at the end of Heliotrope Lane.

I happened to read this volume while being halfway through watching the CW's adaptation of Nancy Drew. Now in the television series, ghosts are real. This volume comes closest to crossing that line in book form.

The majority of the book is spent exploring the house. Nancy is looking for reasons for Izzy's strange behavior. She finds all sorts of evidence of squatting. There are some eerie events but there's also signs of some nefarious goings-on.

There are two different stories here. There's Izzy's behavior. And there's the death of the former owner. Though they are separate, they are also related, at least on the periphery.

The next book is Famous Mistakes (2019).

Four stars

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March 2020 Summary: 04/01/20

Reading report

March was a change to a new (and hopefully temporary) normal. We started the month with COVID-19 being a steady headline and Italy being hard hit by the virus. By March 13th we got word that the Bay Area counties would shelter in place until April 10th. That date was quickly extended to May and now it looks like it will go on to June.

I read fewer books in March, 23, down from February's 35. I made my my diverse reading goal. It was my best month for reading diversely this year.

On the reviews front, I also had an excellent month, with twenty 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 18 from 21, and my 2019 books to review are down to 34 from 48. This year's books are at 42 of the 99 books read.

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