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May 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: 2019-2020

Beat the Backlist 2020



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Rick: 05/30/20

Rick

Rick by Alex Gino is a standalone companion piece to George. Rick is the best friend of Jeff, the boy who teased Melissa (and got punched in the stomach for it). Two years on and now heading to middle school, Rick is having second and third thoughts about being friends with Jeff.

Jeff hasn't improved. If anything, he's gotten worse. He's become obsessed with girls but remains as misogynistic and homophobic as ever. Rick, meanwhile, has come to realize he has no interest in anyone.

Rick and Melissa end up in homeroom together and strike up a friendship. She encourages him to join the LGBTQIAP+ club. Doing so means making excuses to get away from Jeff.

Having the characters as middle schoolers now — even young ones (as sixth grade is still elementary school for our school district) is a huge improvement. The issues are grayer. Characters take sides and argue the nuances of their personal experiences. Adults listen to the children and even apologize when they're wrong or their information is outdated. Basically, Rick addresses all the things I took issue with when I read George.

Five stars

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Clock Dance: 05/29/20

Clock Dance

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler is about a woman trying to find her way in a life that seems to be taking her along for the ride. The book is set in four distinct time periods, with the last one being the meat of the plot.

In 1967 we see how a young Willa copes with her mother suddenly disappearing. She's there one day and then she's not. Her father then spends every night afterwards making her "world famous grilled cheese."

In 1977 she's in college and considering a marriage proposal. It seems like the thing to do even if she's not one hundred percent sold on the idea.

In 1997 she's a widow. Her husband is suddenly and unexpectedly dead. She's now a single mother.

Then it's 2017. Willa is remarried. Her son is an adult. She lives in Arizona. She has a routine. But then she gets a phone call that will completely change her life: her son's ex-girlfriend has been shot and her daughter needs someone to watch her.

The remainder of Clock Dance is set firmly in the road narrative spectrum. Although Willa and her second husband travel together to Baltimore to care for a girl who isn't their grand-daughter, it's Willa who decides to stay. It's the first time she's made a decision that directly affects her life without in put from someone else. She, though, doesn't feel especially empowered and is therefore a marginalized traveler (66).

The destination, Baltimore, is symbolically home (66). It's home because the ex-girlfriend and her daughter provide her a chance to feel at home in a way she hasn't probably since her mother left in 1967. Her time here is her decision.

The route there, via an airplane, is an offroad route. A novel about a marginalized traveler going home via an offroad route is in the middle of the spectrum. It's just above the crossover point between horror and realistic fiction. One can argue that her passive life was bordering on the horrific in that she didn't take any risks or speak up until she was past middle age.

Four stars

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A Gift for a Ghost: 05/28/20

A Gift for a Ghost

A Gift for a Ghost by Borja González was originally published in Spain as The Black Holes in 2018. I have the Spanish copy on hand and will be reading it soon. It's two parallel stories, one set in 1856 and the other in 2016, about young women bucking against expectations to make their own place in the world.

In 1856 Teresa, a young aristocrat, would prefer to write avantgarde horror poetry. She imagines herself talking to a skeleton who doesn't think they're dead. Later in the graphic novel, it might be a bit of overlap with the 2016 plot.

In 2016 Gloria, Laura, and Christina living by the same lake want to start a punk rock band. Their lyrics are odd — a mixture of horror and general relativity.

Whether or not there is actual time travel or just like mindedness across the two eras is up to the reader to decide. The art and text is ambiguous. Regardless, the story is compelling and beautiful.

Five stars

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The Silence of Bones: 05/27/20

The Silence of Bones

The Silence of Bones by June Hur is a mystery set in 1800 Joseon (Korea). The king has recently died. While the capital is still in mourning, a young noblewoman is found murdered. As the kingdom is run under Confucian law, the police employ female servants to help in the investigation.

Seol is sixteen and in the employ of the police. She is on the team to investigate the murder of Lady O. She believes she is an orphan. Her mother and sister are dead. Her brother is missing, presumed dead.

The political climate is changing. Catholicism has been gaining a footing but under the new queen, religious persecution is on the horizon. Is Lady O's murder related to her religious affiliations or something else?

Although this novel is set in Korea, the anti-Catholic sentiment combined with a police procedural brings to mind Maureen Jennings's mysteries set in 1890s Toronto. As the author was raised in Toronto, I wonder if Ontario's history / cultural atmosphere influenced her choice of subject?

Regardless, The Silence of Bones in its exploration of Seol's growth as a person and how she helps investigate the murder, is situated on the road narrative spectrum. Be warned, though, that the analysis will contain spoilers. These spoilers aren't directly related to solving the murder mystery, but one associated with Seol.

Seol came to the city believing she was an orphan — and thus an orphan traveler. Her investigation into Lady O's murder leads to to revelation that her long lost brother is alive and well, and someone very close to her. Learning his status changes the traveler from orphan to sibling (CC).

The destination here is solving the murder. As the murder took place in the city and most of the investigation is done within its borders, the destination is, thus, the city (00).

Finally, the route taken is a transformative one. Throughout Seol's internal monolog, she refers to the city streets as being a labyrinth. As the investigation leads to Seol learning she's not alone in the world, the route is indeed the transformative route of the labyrinth (99).

All together, Seol's journey can be described as siblings traveling through the city via the labyrinth (CC0099).

Four stars

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Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon: 05/26/20

Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon

Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen continues with the plot of the two Tims. Tim-21 at the assurance of Tim-22 is whisked away to a robot built / robot run society. His rescuers, Telsa and Dr. Quon, manage to get taken to, though it's clearly not a safe nor welcoming spot for them.

The planet is the Machine Moon. Frankly the first thing that came to mind was "Fear the Bot Planet" of Futurama (season 1, episode 5). There's less farce on Lemire's version of a robot only world but obvious trap is still obvious.

Frankly for me the more interesting revelation is that Andy is alive and well and, not surprisingly, all grown up. Nonetheless he still loves his robot brother and wants to rescue him. Here, I can't help but draw connections between Descender and Toy Story 3 (2010) but in a science fiction/horror setting.

Chart showing relationship of volume 1 and volume 2

The revelation of Andy's wellbeing and his desire to rescue Tim-21 whom he still calls brother determines this volume's placement on the road narrative spectrum. In volume 1, Tin Stars, the two Tims as robots put the comic into the 99XXXX range. That's typically the last section of the fantasy/science fiction genres. Now though, a human being claiming Tim-21 as a brother promotes his status to sibling traveler (CC).

Andy and Tim's journeys, while separate are united on a singular goal: uhoria (CC). They both wish for a reunion. The last time they saw each other was ten years ago just before society was systematically dismantled across multiple planets. As their current actions are compelled by ten year old memories, their goal can only be uhoria — or no time.

Their routes are both dangerous and circuitous. Andy is going on out-dated information and into places currently in political turmoil. Tim-21 while at first naive glance is safe in a robot utopia, revelations by Telsa and Dr. Quon make it clear that he is in as much mortal danger as they are. With confusion, traps, dead ends, and the likelihood of injury or death, the route is clearly a maze (CC).

All together, Machine Moon is the tale of siblings trying to reach uhoria via the maze (CCCCCC). Other books in this position on the spectrum are Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 4 by Ryoko Kui and The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff.

Volume 3 is Singularities (2016). I will be reading it soon.

Four stars

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We Didn't Ask for This: 05/25/20

We Didn't Ask for This

We Didn't Ask for This by Adi Alsaid is set in the Kingdom of Thailand at the Central International School. Once a year the seniors get to take over the school during a night time "lock-in." This year, though, things will go horribly wrong.

The lock-in, being planned by Peejay, is hijacked by Marisa Cuevas and her group of eco-protest students. They want to draw attention to a construction site that is threatening a reef. They have a list of demands and no one will be released until they are met.

In Let's Get Lost (2014), Alsaid handles multiple characters by giving each one the chapters they need as they make their way through the narrative landscape. Here, with everyone jumbled together in CIS he choses to let more than one character have the POV in every chapter. With about a dozen characters all vying for attention it's hard to focus on anyone or their individual goals.

But it wasn't the confusing jumble of characters POVs that put me off this book. In the end it was the time line. Each chapter starts with a time stamp to give a sense of the flow of time. Typically in such a set up, one can expect the narrative to take approximately twenty-four hours. Here, maybe fifteen or so — the over night hours of the now enforced lock-in.

Not so. At the halfway point, there's an inserted page: "One week later." It's at that page that my ability to believe the scenario presented ended. There is no way a small group of kids — even rich kids — could take control of a school for an entire week.

Three stars

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The Terrible Two's Last Laugh: 05/24/20

The Terrible Two's Last Laugh

The Terrible Two's Last Laugh by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell (illustrator) is the conclusion to the Terrible Two series. It's the last year at Pawnee Academy for Miles and Niles. Principle Barkin wants to have one last prank before the year ends.

Barkin wants to spend this last year learning how to improve his pranking. He's good at the small ones but he tends to give the larger ones away before the prank is complete.

To make sure this is well and truly the last laugh, the book ends with a career change for Principal Barkin and a move for Miles and his family. It's a fitting end especially for readers who will be moving onto new schools, and might have friends moving to different districts.

With Miles and Niles and Principal Barkin all friends now, there isn't as much room for big gags. This is a quiet, thoughtful end to a comedic series.

Four stars

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Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen: 05/23/20

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen

From about 1908 through the teens, young women were the action stars of the silent screen. The most famous serial was The Perils of Pauline staring Pearl White. But there were many others.

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet is historical middle grade fiction set contemporaneously with Perils and is written with the enthusiasm and panache of girls adventure fiction, such as Ruth Fielding by Alice B. Emerson.

Darleen Darling has grown up on screen. In the early days of her life and of American cinema, her antics as a baby and toddler brought in the crowds. Now that she's older, she's now reinventing herself as an action star. She's part of the family business, a studio run by her father, aunt and uncle.

When the studio gets word that the Daring Darleen short will be shown at the re-opened Strand, Darleen's aunt comes up with a new direction for the serial. What if Darleen is fake kidnapped from the theater and it's all recorded on film to be the next chapter? It sounds like a good idea until it goes horribly wrong.

Darleen's fake kidnapping ends up happening at the same as a real one. She ends up kidnapped alongside the young heiress Victorine Berryman. The two girls become fast friends and work together to escape.

The escape of Darleen and Victorine is what places this novel on the road narrative spectrum. Both girls have lost at least one parent and while on their own are both orphan travelers (Darleen metaphorically, Victorine literally) (FF).

Their destination is Fort Lee, NJ. In 1914, Fort Lee was a rural piece of New Jersey, near Manhattan but still wild enough to make movies. Before Hollywood, it was one of a few East Coast locals for film studios. In this context, the destination is a rural one (33).

Darleen and Victorine's route is the labyrinth. There are attempts to harm the girls but they each have special knowledge and skills that helps protect them. Their journey, though, does help transform the life of Victorine. She ends up in a very different path than the one she started on before her adventure with Darleen. Thus, the route is the labyrinth (99).

All together, Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen is the tale of an orphan traveler going to a rural location via the labyrinth (FF3399).

Five stars

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Little Fires Everywhere: 05/22/20

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is set in Shaker Heights near Cleveland. It was a village built to be a suburb for Cleveland, one of the nation's first.

The book opens with one of these idyllic houses burning to the ground, set fire by one of its residents. The remainder of the book is the unwinding of events to point to what could drive a suburban family to such extremes.

The event that changed everything, that set the dominoes to fall, was the arrival of Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl. They are renting one of the upstairs apartments in the homes that are duplexes made to look like one. Mia is an artist.

The next event is the attempted adoption of a Chinese baby. When it falls apart and results in a custody battle, Mia ends up in the middle of things.

I'm not a fan of narratives that start with a dramatic event and then rewind. This story telling approach reeks of padding. Why not just let the characters do their thing and let the reader guess at what's coming? Putting the big event front and center gives the story nowhere else to go.

Although there isn't much movement in this novel beyond the ebb and flow of suburbia, Little Fires Everywhere does sit on the road narrative spectrum. As it deals with family dynamics, the travelers are families (33). As most of the action takes place in different houses, the destination is home (66). The route are the roads the define Shaker Heights, which for this spectrum count as blue highways (33). All together this novel is about families, their homes and the roads that connect them.

Three stars

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Volume 1: The Crucible: 05/21/20

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Volume 1: The Crucible

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Volume 1: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack is the first half of a two book series that was (in part) the inspiration for the Netflix show of the same name. The conceit here is that Sabrina, her aunts and her cousin (excised from most comics since the 1990s) are satanic worshipers, drawing their powers from their worship of the "Dark Lord."

The story centers on Sabrina's upcoming sixteenth birthday. It falls on Halloween during a blood moon (lunar eclipse). Out in the forest she is to sign her name in the dark lord's book and officially join the coven. There are forces at play for her soul and one of them is Madam Satan.

While Madam Satan plays a huge part in the television series (and is played by the delightful Michelle Gomez) is one of the evils inflicted on Sabrina, the cause of her summoning as well as her motivations are different in the comic. The funniest conceit that I wish the show had kept is that she was summoned by a rival coven of witches in nearby Riverdale. Yup: Betty and Veronica!

The comic has an edgy nostalgia to it but the plot is rather thin. It's basically sixteen years after a Rosemary's Baby scheme. Sabrina is that baby, now a teenager. Of course there's also the half-witch plot, something that's always been part of Sabrina's character sheet. The comic, though, focuses solely on the witch side of her heritage, with Sabrina's mother locked away in an asylum, and her father dead.

Four stars

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No Cats Allowed: 05/20/20

No Cats Allowed

No Cats Allowed by Miranda James is the seventh volume in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. The university's new library director has decided to close the archive and rare book collection, citing a massive budge short fall left in the wake of the previous director's sudden resignation. His other rule is the banning of Diesel from the library.

When the director is found dead in the basement, Charlie is asked to take on the role as interim library director. While he's glad to help, he's reluctant to give up his flexible schedule for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Charlie's newfound responsibilities also put him on the trail for solving multiple mysteries. It's clear that the dead director uncovered something he shouldn't have. Will Charlie be able to solve his murder or will he be the next victim?

This volume's mystery is built out of the minutia of running a library. Specifically it's the business side of it — licenses, budgets, and similar. It's dry in parts but pay attention. The clues are there to solve all the mysteries.

The eighth book is Twelve Angry Librarians (2017).

Four stars

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Camp Spirit: 05/19/20

Camp Spirit

Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir is a graphic novel set at an unusual summer camp. With two months to go before university, Elodie is shipped off to camp to work as a counselor. She's given the red heads — a boisterous group of ginger girls that no previous counselor has been able to tame.

Also at the camp is perfect girl Catherine, Elodie's supposed arch enemy. She's surprised to find a friend in her and before the end of the first week the two are inseparable.

At night, though, something weird is happening. Strange lights. Weird behavior from the camp chief. Elodie is having nightmares or possibly paranormal experiences.

The best way to describe the camp's atmosphere is to say it's like the witches in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina embraced the hippy life style and decided to open a summer camp. But — they kept it devoted to their Dark Lord, including satanic skits and fireside songs.

Somehow in the middle of all this chaos and mayhem, Elodie finds friendship and romance. She tames the red heads and continues an awkward friendship with them post-summer camp.

I loved the mayhem and magic of this book. The redheads are just this side of believable. It was a fun afternoon read and one I will enjoy re-reading.

Five stars

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Lift: 05/18/20

Lift

Lift by Minh Lê and Dan Santat is a picture book about Iris who loves her family role as the elevator button pusher. When her younger brother is old enough to start pushing the button she isn't happy. Her desire to have her own elevator takes her on an unexpected journey.

In the background of the first few pages the second elevator is shown to be out of order. There's a person working on repairing it. They leave behind the old call button and Iris claims it in a fit of pique.

With the logic more typical of picture books, such as Lift, the elevator button continues to have it's ability to call an elevator. When an item is retired from it's mundane service, it takes on the ability to go unexpected places or to work in unexpected ways. It's an obvious gag here but something that nonetheless serves to place this book onto the road narrative spectrum.

At the heart of this book, Lift is about the evolving relationship of siblings. Call it their journey through life. As such, Iris and her brother are joint travelers (CC).

The places Iris goes first by herself and later with her brother are impossible places to reach via an apartment building elevator. As they are unnamed in the text, these places are collectively no places or utopias (FF).

The route the siblings take is via an elevator, a transportation device that either goes up or it goes down. It's route is fixed by the architecture of the building. Although this elevator is now capable of going to utopias, it still otherwise acts as an elevator. For this reason, I'm including elevators into the interstate/railroad category (00).

All together, Lift by Minh Lê and Dan Santat is about siblings traveling together to utopia via the railroad (here represented by an elevator) (CCFF00).

Five stars

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Bobo the Sailor Man!: 05/17/20

Bobo the Sailor Man!

Bobo the Sailor Man! by Eileen Rosenthal is the third of the Bobo the Sock Monkey picture books. Willy has a plan to go exploring with Bobo. His play will culminate with him setting Bobo adrift in the river in a red bucket he's found.

The previous two have been set inside the house and present Willy as a very different sort of child. In the first two, Willy is shown in opposition to the gray kitty who also loves Bobo.

With Willy outside we see him as a destructive, selfish force. He's exploring a beautiful secluded bit of woods behind his home. He comes to a fairy ring of mushrooms. After taking in their beauty for a split second, he decides to kick them.

Willy kicking mushrooms

That scene was the point where my sympathies switched wholeheartedly towards the cat. That cat is more caring and less destructive that Willy is. Bobo is better off with the cat.

Two stars

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A Game of Fox and Squirrels: 05/16/20

A Game of Fox and Squirrels

A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese is a middle grade urban fantasy set in rural Oregon. Samantha and older sister Caitlin have moved here from Los Angeles to stay with their aunts.

Sam is desperate to go home, back to a time before her father's anger got out of control, leaving Caitlin with a broken arm, and them in a different state. Caitlin, meanwhile, is all smiles and cheer, apparently perfectly happy to embrace her new life in Oregon.

On the day they arrive, Aunt Vicky gives Sam a card came, "Fox and Squirrels." Instructions (more or less) are included between chapters. They are the first clue into how Sam has learned to survive in an abusive home.

But the game is also an invitation to see the magic (and danger) lurking in the nearby forest. Sam is met by three squirrels who say they work for the fox. If she can win a real world version of the card game, she will find a way for her sister and herself to go home.

Chart showing the two possible placements on the RNS

Even without Sam's urban fantasy adventure, A Game of Fox and Squirrels sits on the road narrative spectrum. Where though, is different depending on perspective. If taken as a contemporary realistic fiction with fantasy elements as a means for Sam to work through her trauma, it's the tale of siblings (CC) traveling to a rural place (33) via an offroad route (66).

But I argue that Caitlin's early assimilation with her new life removes her from being counted as a traveler. Sam's actions until the last chapter are hers and hers alone, making her an orphan traveler (FF) despite her residing with her sister and aunts.

The destination, then, isn't where Caitlin and Sam arrive to at the start of the novel. Instead, it's where Sam goes on her own as she tries to earn a way home for her and her sister. Sam's adventures are almost entirely within the woods, or in terms of the road narrative spectrum, the wildlands (99).

The route Sam takes over those first nights is a confusing one. It's made more dangerous by the presence of the fox. During the climax, a torrential rain storm makes the landscape all the more dangerous. The very real danger combined with the fox's trickery / abusive manipulation makes the route the maze (CC).

From Sam's point of view, A Game of Fox and Squirrels is the story of an orphan traveler going through the wildlands via a maze like route. (FF99CC).

Five stars

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The Four-Story Mistake: 05/15/20

The Four-Story Mistake

The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright is the second book in the Melendy Family series. The family is saying goodbye to their home in the city to move to a larger house in the country. Think of it as a middle grade equivalent to Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1946).

Like The Saturdays (1941), this one is made up of episodic chapters. The early ones focus on how various family members deal with the move. Later ones focus on moving into the house, along with the ups and downs of buying an old farm house. Then there is the fun of exploring inside and out, including the discovery of a walled off room which brings to mind The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018)

The Four-Story Mistake holds up better for me than the first book does. The siblings are better defined as characters. Their adventures, too, are more defined by the location and the novelty of moving to the country from the city.

Like the first book, this one is settled on the realistic end of the Road Narrative Spectrum. The Melendy family (33) as a whole is the traveler. Their destination is an old house in rural town (33), one reminiscent of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins and illustrated by William Steig (1946). It won't be a proper home until the third book, so the destination is the rural location, not the actual place they purchase. The route they take by car is a Blue Highway (33) as the novel pre-dates the Interstate system. All together then, book two is about a family relocating to a new home via the Blue Highway.

The third book is Then They Were Five (1944).

Four stars

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Gotham High: 05/14/20

Gotham High

Gotham High by Melissa de la Cruz is a "reimagining of Gotham for a new generation of readers." For older readers it's a what if scenario. What if Bruce Wayne and his future rivals all went to the same high school? It's a similar set up to Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart (2019) but how the characters are imagined is different, as is the scenario.

In this one, Bruce Wayne is sent to Gotham High after being expelled for getting into another fight. He was protecting Dick Greyson — here imagined as a Black teen. In the public high school he falls in with the wrong crowd: Jack Napier and Selina Kyle. Napier and Kyle are running a gambling ring that syphons off money from the rich kids in town. Bruce is their latest mark.

Mixed into the present day plot, there is of course Bruce's backstory. The events are the same but the details and consequences are different. First and foremost, Martha Wayne was Chinese, from Hong Kong. Alfred's loyalty to Bruce is given a familial explanation; he's now Martha's brother. To keep his name Pennyworth, he's given a husband.

While Bruce and Selina do have a history here, they've fallen out of touch while he's been in Hong Kong with his uncle. His return to Gotham is a recent one. Selina's family in the meanwhile has fallen on hard times and she's struggling to take care of her father while still being a full time student.

In the middle of all this, there are two kidnappings. Bruce, while not yet Batman, has the interest and the means to investigate. He also feels responsible because he knows both victims. How the mystery unfolds is satisfying and in keeping with a typical Batman adventure.

Five stars

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Dead to the Last Drop: 05/13/20

Dead to the Last Drop

Dead to the Last Drop by Cleo Coyle is a departure for the series being set in Washington DC and Baltimore. Clare Cosi is in Washington, living in a historic house so she can set up the Washington branch of the Village Blend. But things go awry when the FBI are after her for the kidnapping of the president's daughter.

The second way this volume differs is in its set up. The previous books open with a POV from the murderer. This one, though, opens with Mike Quinn grabbing Clare from her DC home so that they can flee the city ahead of the FBI. The majority of the narrative is told in flashback as a conversation between Clare and Mike as they make their way to the safe-house in Baltimore.

The major plot which takes a long time to unfold, even to the point of the mystery itself, is the disappearance of the First Family's adult daughter. She's been playing jazz at the open mic nights at the Village Blend DC. Her friendship with Clare leads to an invitation to the White House and the chance to provide the coffee service for the daughter's wedding.

The whole running from the FBI framing device seemed far fetched. Also the usual supporting characters are absent for most of book, and they are an integral part of series. I was worried at first that this book would signal a relocation for the remainder of the series. Thankfully, that's not the case.

The next book is Leave it to Cleaver (2017).

Four stars

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White Colander Crime: 05/12/20

White Colander Crime

White Colander Crime by Victoria Hamilton is the fifth of the Vintage Kitchen mysteries. It's set during the run up to Christmas, to the Dickens Days and the first holiday test of the refurbished Dumpe Manor. Jaymie is in charge of handing out flyers about the holiday events at the manor. On her way to drop off extras, she finds Shelby Fretter murdered in the storage shed.

Leading up to her death, she was seen arguing in town in a couple different spots. Jaymie has also heard bad rumors about the Fretter family but she doesn't believe all the negative talk. Jaymie's too much a pragmatist, believing instead that the Fretters have had bad luck over the years.

Most worrisome, though, is the fact the the authorities think Cody Wainwright killed Shelby. They had been in a brief tumultuous relationship. They had been seen arguing in public. He had been seen arguing with his mother, Jaymie's editor at the paper. Jaymie also saw him on her rounds during the festival, when he should have been working for her boyfriend at the Christmas tree farm.

White Colander Crime builds on the family histories that were first built upon in earnest in No Mallets Intended. Queensville is expanding as a place through its reoccurring characters and shared history.

Also, Jaymie has finally found true love, in the man who gave her a safe place to hide at the end of the previous book. After two loser boyfriends, he's clearly a good fit for her.

The next book is Leave it to Cleaver (2017).

Five stars

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Sometime After Midnight: 05/11/20

Sometime After Midnight

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips (pseudonym of Laura Wettersten) (2018) is a romance set against the Los Angeles music scene. Nate goes to a local dive to watch one of his favorite bands. There he meets Cam, only to late discover he's the heir to a record label empire that Nate blames for his father's suicide. Can Cam and Nate work through their differences to find true love?

Of course they can. But the process is slow and full of melodrama. When Nate isn't bemoaning his father's death or lashing out at Cam then he's working on his music. The music bits while detail oriented slow the pacing down even further.

Sometime After Midnight is unfortunately one of those books where one can skip entire chapters and still follow the plot with little to no surprises.

The best written and most entertaining character ends up being Cam's twin sister who tries to speed things along through her own impulsive means. Frankly, she needs her own book.

Two stars

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The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse: 05/10/20

The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse

The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse by Nicholas Gannon is the sequel to the The Doldrums (2015). Archer B. Helmsley has gotten word that his grandparents, long lost and assumed dead, are returning. A freak blizzard, though, has convinced the town that the Helmsleys are cursed.

Archer who had been basically stuck save for time at the local school is now off at boarding school. The change in location is the consequence of Oliver's adventure at the museum in the previous book.

The school as one can expect in this type of book is terrible. It's corrupt and it's dangerous. It also has ties to the explorers club. It's also revealed that the explorers club has a similar sway over the way the town works as the mapmakers do in Nagspeake.

As with the previous volume, Nicholas Gannon did all the illustrations. He also recently did the illustrations for Wendy Mass's Bob.

This book is best suited for fans of:

Four stars

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Above: 05/08/20

Above

Above by Roland Smith is the sequel and conclusion to Beneath (2016). Brothers Pat and Coop, reunited, are fleeing the underground society, along with the grand-daughter of the founder. But it seems from the moment they meet up in Seattle, the society is on their trail and there's no escaping them.

Movement on the RNS from Beneath to Above.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the sequel is a slight nudge in a more realistic direction. While the first book was about a reunification of siblings, now it's a joint trip by siblings trying to find a safe place to be. It's a move from discovery to escape.

Like the first book, the travelers are the siblings (CC) — brothers Pat and Coop. They are separated very quickly from their traveling companion, so her involvement doesn't change the type of traveler.

The destination is once again utopia (FF). The society who loves living underground, expecting the world to end, is moving from their abandoned bits and bobs of Manhattan to a place they have carefully had built in California.

The route, though, is what changes the position on the spectrum (00). It is now the interstate / railroad. They travel by both before ultimately arriving at the new underground city.

All together, book two is the tale of siblings traveling again to utopia, this time, via the interstate and railroad (CCFF00).

Four stars

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My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Volume 1: 05/07/20

My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Volume 1

My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, Volume 1 by Sanzo is the first of a two volume manga series. The title is the basic gist of the plot. Dinosaurs rather than evolving into birds, have taken on human characteristics to blend in. A T-Rex girl hooks up with the human narrator and hilarity ensues.

The manga is a four panel variety, with some carry over between gags. I think you have to be in the right mindset to find this book consistently funny.

I frankly, wanted more. The T-rex girlfriend cycles from violent, to excessively stupid, to tragic. Behind the gags there is a world where these dino-people are struggling to survive because of specism. The girlfriend is homeless. She pretends she likes to be naked when the truth is she can't afford new clothes. The boyfriend meanwhile doesn't seem to really love or even like the girl — but she's a dinosaur, so exotic and cool.

This book could be a humorous examination of the struggles immigrants face in Japan. Instead, it's a tone-deaf stereotype driven book. For me, only about a quarter to a third of the jokes actually work for me.

Three stars

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The Walking Bread: 05/06/20

The Walking Bread

The Walking Bread by Winnie Archer is the third in the Bread Shop Mystery series. Every year Santa Sofia has an Art Car contest and parade. Ivy Culpepper's brother has been entering a car and coming in second place to developer Max Litman for years. He's finally realized that his art school teacher has been acting as a spy for Litman and this year Billy has managed to send false information to his rival.

Ivy as a photographer is allowed into the warehouse to photograph the cars before the show. Billy has a fantastic Alice in Wonderland car and Litman has created a grotesque zombie car. When Ivy comes in closer for a better view, she realizes that Litman's body is part of the display!

Before Ivy can even mentally and emotionally process what she's found, her brother is arrested for the crime. No one seems willing to investigate any other angles, so Ivy decides to follow the clues herself. Of course Mrs. Branford is on the case too.

In previous volumes, Deputy Sheriff Emmaline Davis has taken the lead on the murder investigations. This time she can't because of her involvement with Billy and her long friendship with Ivy. This one major detail combined with a few smaller ones took away a little from my investment in the mystery.

In most of the cozy series I've read (the other exception being the Goldy Bear Culinary series by Diane Mott Davidson), the amateur sleuth is a newcomer to the town. Their newness is what allows the author to gradually invent / insert a history and traditions for the town.

In The Walking Bread it's presented that Billy has been part of this Art Car show for years, and presumably started before Ivy left. It's also been established that Billy has a busy work schedule, so his time for working on elaborate art cars would be precious and fleeting. Given the timing of these books, it would have been nice if the Art Car show had been mentioned in a previous text. Billy could have even been shown coming in second again as a side plot.

With the Art Car showing up whole cloth in this volume with an obvious hinderance to the normal flow of the investigation, the over all flow of the plot becomes rather obvious. I'm only taking one star off because the characters and setting are still so engaging.

The next book is Flour in the Attic (2019).

Four stars

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Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars: 05/05/20

Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars

After being confused by the first volume of Ascender, I chose to purchase the six volume run of the precursor series. Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen begins the series and ultimately also sets the stage for Ascender.

The book opens with a woman pushing a pram along a busy and advanced city street. There are flying cars and other signs of a far futuristic civilization. She's interrupted when everyone starts looking skywards.

In the sky, or rather, in orbit, is a gigantic — larger than planet sized — robotic figure. Thus begins the downfall of this advanced society.

The next scene shows a boy waking up and wondering where everyone is. A computerized voice tells him he's been sleeping for ten years. Around him are skeletal remains — everywhere he goes. It's quickly revealed that he isn't a boy, but a robot companion named Tim-21.

Tim-21 is the last surviving robot of a certain type of robot. He has the same code base as the things that attacked. His supposed creator is now en route to rescue Tim-21 before the scavengers can get him and melt him down.

Like every other Jeff Lemire comic I've read, this one is settled into the road narrative spectrum. As I continue to read and review the Descender series, I will plot later volumes on the spectrum to track the series' narrative progression.

Mostly Tin Stars is told from Tim-21's point of view. As such, he is the traveler for volume one. Although he appears to an orphan at his introduction, we quickly learn that he is a robot, a constructed being. As he was used as a companion to a boy named Andy, we could see him as a scarecrow, or protector character. The adults coming to get him, though, know of his ties to a cataclysmic force, and thus he can also be seen as a "monster in the middle" or minotaur. Either way he is in the 99 slot for traveler.

Tim's destination is uhoria (CC) — or no time. His immediate goal is to understand what happened while he was "asleep" for ten years. For the adults pursuing him, their goal is to understand how his code is related to the giants. That connection is rooted in the past in multiple layers.

The route to Tim's destination is an offroad one (66). First and foremost there is his journey through the mines looking for survivors or help. Second there is the space travel the adults take to find him. Then there is his space travel to the scavenger's planet. There are also the journeys through his memories which materialize as dreams.

All together Tin Stars is about a scarecrow or minotaur traveling to uhoria via an offroad route. It's thematically very similar to the second volume of Captive Hearts in Oz, which I will show when I post my review of it.

Volume 2 is Machine Moon (2016) which I am currently reading.

Four stars

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The Storm Runner: 05/04/20

The Storm Runner

The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes is the first book in a middle grade fantasy series that builds on Mayan myths. Zane lives in New Mexico near a dormant volcano. He loves exploring it until one night when a supernatural being crash lands in the volcano and sets in motion a series of events that will lead to a roadtrip and quite possibly the end of the world.

As this book is published under the Rick Riordan Presents label, it's no surprise that Zane is a demi-god. His physical problems (namely a leg that is shorter and weaker than the other) are a result of that pairing.

There are essentially two parts to The Storm Runner. There's the initial adventure inside the volcano and then there's the road trip to undo the events of the volcano. It's the secondary piece that puts this novel into the road narrative spectrum.

Before I analyze the road narrative aspect of this book, I want to add that my favorite part of the book was actually the bits set around the volcano. It had a similar feel location-wise to 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling (2018) but with a supernatural foundation. The volcano itself could have been expanded into its own road narrative.

But that's not the direction The Storm Runner takes. Zane, his mother, and his uncle all set on a trip to save Rosie and stop the destruction of the world. Thus, the traveler isn't just Zane, it's his entire family (33). The family as traveler is a recurrent theme in hispanic road narratives — where the family is stronger than any one of the individuals, something that's not typically the case in non-hispanic road narratives.

The destination is utopia (FF) — or the underworld in this case. The goal is to get there to rescue Rosie and to return the psychic neighbor to her human form.

The route they take is the interstate (00). Their journey, save for the final destination is a conventional one, one that can be followed on Google Maps or even the older paper maps offered at gas stations or by places like AAA. The idea here is that if one is leaving from an out of the way place, say with an extinct volcano, the interstate can lead to even more extraordinary places.

All together Storm Runner is about a family seeking utopia via an interstate road trip.

The second book in the series is The Fire Keeper (2019). It was released in September.

Four stars

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Paperboy: 05/03/20

Paperboy

Paperboy by Vince Vawter is set in Memphis in July, 1959. Little Man as the housekeeper Mam calls him loves to play baseball and loves to type out his thoughts on his typewriter. What he's not good at is talking. He stutters.

The novel is told through his typed monolog of the events. As grammar also isn't his thing the passages lack most punctuation. The sentences tend to run on. His dialog is also rendered without punctuation, except that he includes all his stuttering.

To put it bluntly, this book is tedious to read. It's a monotone, run on sentence, chore.

But if it's your type of book, there's also a sequel, Copy Boy (2018)

Two stars

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The Only Black Girls in Town: 05/02/20

The Only Black Girls in Town

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert is set in fictional Ewing Beach California. It was supposed to a Black beach town but as of the start of the novel, Alberta, Al to her friends, is the only Black girl in her school. That is until the B&B across the street is sold to a Black family.

Although Ewing Beach is fictional, it's created with a strong sense of place and history. From how it's described and the real towns near it, it's probably on the other side of US 1 from Arroyo Grande (which does have a Ewing Road). The ice cream shop that Laramie's family runs is clearly inspired by Doc Burnstein's in Arroyo Grande. If I were to place Ewing Beach on a map, I'd put it south of the Pacific Dunes.

In contrast to tiny Ewing Beach where life is defined in part by the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean, new neighbor Edie, is from Brooklyn. She is a city girl but she's not the hip hop stereotype a white writer would put here to contrast with Al. Where Al's passion is surfing and her personal style is bright colors and whimsical designs, Edie is a Goth.

Once the two locations are established, Al's story splits into three interesting threads that are braided back together into a complex and rewarding story that spans nearly seven decades of history.

The first, thread is the friendship between Al and Edie and how it affects Al's previously established friendships. Al has a long history with her friends, even if she's the only Black girl among them. Al and Edie bond at first because they're "skinfolk" but both have doubts that it's enough to make the friendship grow.

Second is the arrival of Al's birth mother who is pregnant with a child by her husband, and the history of how she, her husband, and Edie's two dads all met in Ojai. Al has known her birth mother all her life, but she has always been distant, living and working in Los Angeles. Now she's here and Al's having to rethink her personal history as she gets to know the woman better. She also has to adjust to being a sister, even if it will be a remote relationship.

Finally, there is the mystery of Constance, a young woman who kept a series of diaries in the 1950s-1960s. Her diaries ended up in the attic of the B&B and the girls bond over trying to discover her identity and learn her history.

Constance, though, is the thread that brings everything together. Although I had figured out her identity early on, I still loved reading her diary entries. Her growth as a person helps both girls grow.

Brandy Colbert's next novel is The Voting Booth. It releases July 7, 2020.

Five stars

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April 2020 Sources: 05/02/20

Previous month's book sources

April was a full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions, and May will be too. Time at home was divided up between caring for the puppy, painting, playing video games, chores and finally reading.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In April, like March, I read 12 TBR books. I also read two books published in April. Four books were for research. None were from the library. My ROOB score was the second best April, down significantly from the previous month (-3.42 vs March's -2.36).

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

April 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. April is much lower (meaning better) than March and February. With library books out of the picture for COVID-19, I predict a continued low ROOB score for May.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for March decreased nicely from -2.25 to -2.36.

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Hansel and Gretel: 05/01/20

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti is a graphic novel retelling of the 1857 Grimm brothers' tale. In this version the guilt is shared among all the adults: the parents and the witch. The story is also contextualized to set up the encounter between the witch and the siblings.

The story is introduced with a back story of a happy couple marrying during prosperous times. They chose to live away from the village where the husband can make money as a woodcutter. During this prosperous time, the siblings are born. Then war comes and with it famine. There is no food and there are no jobs.

Rather than sacrifice for their children's wellbeing, the mother thinks only of herself and her husband. She figures there is only enough for them to survive. Even in a post-war era, there are laws against killing one's children. But if they could be somehow lost in the dangerous woods — then their problem would be solved.

The core of the Hansel and Gretel story begins with the second attempt by the father to lose his children. It is at this point that the book settles into the road narrative spectrum.

The travelers are, of course, siblings (CC). Their destination — or their parents' goal for them to be lost — can be restated as the wildlands (99). As with Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (2018), the route is the cornfield (FF), as represented by the witch's confectionary house. All together, this retelling of Hansel and Gretel is the tale of siblings crossing the cornfield into the wildlands (CC99FF).

Four stars

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April 2020 Summary: 05/01/20

Reading report

April was a continuation of the COVID-19 stay at home routine. June graduations, the D.C. trip, summer camps, our anniversary roadtrip, were all canceled. We are fortunately in a position where we can afford to stay at home for as long as needed. Our son, though, has plans to attend college and we hope by fall he can actually move to the campus. But who knows?

I read fewer books in April, 19, down from March's 23. I made my my diverse reading goal. It was on par with March's accomplishment for reading diversely.

On the reviews front, I also had a good month, with twelve 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 15 from 18, and my 2019 books to review are down to 25 from 34. This year's books are at 48 of the 120 books read.

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