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August 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: 2023-2024

Beat the Backlist 2023

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Hot Dog Girl: 08/31/20


Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan is set during the last summer season of the Magic Castle Playland. Elouise (Lou) Parker has been hired again to be the hot dog girl. She's gone into the job with enthusiasm and optimism, but is devastated when the closure is announced at the welcome dinner.

Lou decides to use her last summer at Playland to save the amusement park. She has a handful of different schemes but the one that takes off is a bake sale. Who knew the diving prince could bake from scratch?

Hot Dog Girl reminds me of a blend of Amagi Brilliant Park (minus the fantasy elements) and Chicken Girl by Heather Smith (2019). Unlike the anime, there's no saving Magic Castle Playland and there's every reason not to save it.

I found it an enjoyable, quick read. Along with the scheming, there's also romance — best friends to lovers. That plot is similar to Leah on the Offbeat (2018) with less melodrama.

Four stars

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Baby Teeth: 08/30/20


Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is about a horrible family: a horrible father, a horrible mother, and a horrible child where the mother and daughter are in a constant cage match for the father's adoration. The novel is narrated in alternating points of view between Hanna, the child, and Suzette, the mother. The father, who is probably the worst of them, though, gets to keep his thoughts to himself.

Hanna is seven, though there are some flashbacks to when she was younger. She has never spoken until this year. When she does speak, she insists that she is the reincarnation — or perhaps possessed by — a French woman executed for being a witch.

For two thirds of the novel we're given enough information to believe that Hanna has developed a hatred for her mother. She is bad to the bone and should be removed from the household for Suzette's well-being. What we're not given is the why and the how behind her hatred. For a long while we're left to either accept the possession story or just take that she is somehow inherently bad.

But if you look at the the way Alex, the husband and father in this novel, is described and the way he interacts with both Hanna and Suzette when he is around, a different interpretation surfaces. Alex is the worst of them all and has probably been sexually abusing / grooming Hanna since infancy. He is the reason she has become the monster she is.

Baby Teeth could be a very scathing depiction of sexual predators in the home. But that portrayal is stymied by slow pacing and the ridiculous ghost-witch tangent.

Three stars

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The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez: 08/29/20


The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas is a reimagining of la tule vieja. Cuban American Nestor Lopez and his mother have moved to his paternal grandmother's house. Nestor is used to moving, having moved multiple times in his short life because of his father's military career, but this is his first time living off base.

Nestor's new home is a tiny Texas town with more wildlife than people. The woods give him a chance to sketch. He's an artist and he has the ability to talk to animals. It's through the animals that he first learns that something is wrong.

When a main character has a unique power in an otherwise realistic setting, often they're forced to keep their talent a secret. The plots are then situationally driven. Will the m.c. be caught this time? What lie will they have to tell? Refreshingly, not here. Nestor has more important things to worry about, as do his new friends.

This novel also has a Troll Hunter vibe to it. Like the Dreamworks series, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez has strangers coming together as friends and heroes. It has a redemption arc for the school bully. It has positive family interactions and support, while still allowing the teen main characters to be the heroes. And everything is ticking down to a total solar eclipse, when the town will either be lost or saved.

Finally, Nestor's journey to embrace the potential of his power and to accept this small town as his actual home, sits on the road narrative spectrum. Nestor and his friends all have some skill or piece of knowledge that are needed to beat la tule vieja. Thus they are privileged travelers (00). The clues and ultimate showdown are deep in the forest, or in RNS terms, the wildlands (99). The route is fraught with danger, traps, and misdirection — a maze (CC). Thus The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez is the tale of privileged travelers going to the wildlands via the maze to save their family, their pets, and their town (0099CC).

Five stars

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Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 5: 08/28/20


Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 5 by Ryoko Kui continues the aftermath of resurrecting Farin. She's alive and awake and missing! Meanwhile, the remainder of the party are trying to find their way to the surface to regroup.

This volume serves as transition piece. The initial goal has been accomplished. It didn't turn out as planned but it was completed. Now the group has to decide what to do next. Do they go after Farin? Or do they go after some other goal?

Chart showing the road narrative spectrum progression across the first five volumes

While volume four was a departure for the series in that it focused on siblings as travelers, volume five returns to nearly the same spot on the spectrum as volume 2.

While volume two had the past (or uhoria) as it's destination, volume five is more grounded in reality. It's the reality of the dungeon and the fact that they appear to have gotten trapped in an area that is constantly changing. Their goal, then, is to get out of the changing bit and to the garden (or wildlands) (99) just outside the area. There they can find food and take shelter long enough to rest.

With the ever changing village section, though, their journey is through the maze again (CC). The stakes are higher this time through the maze. They are running out of supplies and are exhausted. They are very likely to die if they can't find their way out.

Five stars

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You Brought Me the Ocean: 08/27/20


You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez and Julie Maroh is set in the DC universe but is a side plot. At first glance it's like a graphic novel reimagining of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz set in a world where it's possible to see Superman flying across the horizon, or to see news reports about superheroes.

Jake Hyde doesn't swim but is fascinated by the sea. He's waiting to see if he'll get early acceptance to Miami. His mother would prefer he stay home. His next door neighbor and best friend, Maria, hopes he stays home too. She's hoping there's more in their future.

But Jake is gay. And he's falling head over heels for swim captain Kenny Liu. Kenny is out and proud and a target for the school bullies. If Jake is going to date Kenny, he'll need to be out too.

Beyond the adorable budding relationship of Jake and Kenny, there is the explanation of Jake's mysterious markings. He's been told they're birthmarks. Yes, in the strictest sense they are. But they're so much more.

Of the two big plots: the romance and the backstory, I prefer the romance. I get that it's a DC comic, so a superpower is to be expected. But it was so fun early on to see the superheroes and villains in the background.

Four stars

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Here Comes the Body: 08/26/20


Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico is the start of the Catering Hall mystery series. Set in Queens, it follows Mia Carina as she returns home to manage her father's new business venture. He has mob ties but this business is legit and Mia is there to make sure it stays that way.

Mia's first gig is a bachelor party. A woman who had earlier in the day been trying to scam her father ends up dead at the bottom of the pop-out cake. Next to her body is a check for a million dollars. Mia and everyone else there knows it's a frame job. But can she convince the police of this and help them solve the murder?

I am enjoying the Millennial trend in mysteries where the main character is returning home for reasons other than a murdered loved one. I love how family plays an active role in their lives — and not one that is built over the course of the series out of introduced and reoccurring characters.

I loved the setting — a traditionally Catholic, Greek and Italian neighborhood in Queens. The street Mia lives on is struggling with gentrification. The older neighbors are moving out, many convinced to do so by a shrewd realtor.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Devon Sorvari. She does an excellent job with the various accents and Italian dialog. I chuckled every time Mia grumbled, "But Queens is the City."

The next book is Long Island Iced Tina. It releases February 23, 2021.

Five stars

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Cast Iron Alibi: 08/25/20


Cast Iron Alibi by Victoria Hamilton is the ninth in the Vintage Kitchen mystery series. After many busy summers, Jaymie is finally spending summer with her college friends. Except instead of camping, they will be staying at the island cabin while her husband and step-daughter are in Poland.

Nothing goes right. Extra guests show up. There are stalker husbands. And there's a fire and a murder in a nearby cabin. Although Jaymie has no desire to investigate, she's forced to when one of her vintage pie irons turns out to be the murder weapon.

In the previous mysteries set during summer, I looked forward to seeing Jaymie go camping. Now though, I have to wonder how she was ever friends with them. Sure there's a lot of emotional baggage involved. Nonetheless, Jaymie spends the majority of her holiday being taken advantage of and pushed to near breaking by her guests. In the audio version, it means a lot of angry voices and bickering, meaning the book wasn't as soothing as the previous ones.

One interesting side note, Jaymie and co do head into Canada for a day of fun. Canada is always part of the series but usually in the background. It's somewhere Jaymie has been, somewhere she has family, somewhere her sister and brother in law go to regularly. I would like to see more of Jaymie in Canada in future books.

Four stars

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Starworld: 08/24/20


Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner is about two teens trying to escape reality. They share the fun of a made up world, Starworld. It's their own private spot in the universe that they visit through texts.

Sam Jones can't keep up with her mother's OCD driven rules and moods. She can't have friends over. She barely has time for herself. Her whole life revolves around her mother.

Zoe Miller is adopted. Her mother is struggling with cancer. Her brother — her adoptive parents' biological child — is disabled and probably will never be able to live on his own. His parents have made the decision to move him into an assisted living home.

Sam and Zoe's chapter alternate. Each new chapter seems to be a contest to out angst the previous one. There's very little in the way of moments of downtime. Neither character gets much of a chance to breathe and chapter after chapter like this lessens the overall emotional impact.

What originally sucked me in was Sam's love of painting. Her first chapter, the one where Zoe and she first interact was amazing. Their initial meeting was over Zoe wanting to use one of her paintings for set design for the drama club. But that whole thread gets buried in the home life dramas of both girls.

Three stars

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The 13 Clocks: 08/23/20

The 13 Clocks

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber is a short fantasy, either a short story or a children's book or maybe an art piece. Incognito, a terrible duke has been keeping his daughter prisoner and preventing anyone from marrying her through a series of impossible tasks. So obsessed with keeping things as they are that time has basically stopped in his duchy.

It reminds me of the set up to first season Once Upon a Time but with the genders swapped between parent and child. With most stories like this, there will be that one person — that one hero or suitor, etc. — who can find the loophole to beat the challenges.

In this case, our hero has help in the form of the Golux. Like Mr. Gold, the Golux cheats. Or maybe bends things to near breaking is a better way of putting it. And there is of course everything having price or a consequence.

The 2008 edition I read has beautiful and sometimes surreal illustrations by Marc Simont. They are worked into the text and are frankly the most memorable part of the reading experience.

Three stars

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The Archer at Dawn: 08/22/20

The Archer at Dawn

The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala is the sequel to The Tiger at Midnight (2019). Kunal and Esha are allies now and plan to use the Sun Mela to infiltrate King Vardaan's court.

What had been a chase across the country settles now into palace intrigue. The Sun Mela festival includes games, hand to hand combat, and other events. In this regard, volume two reminds me of A Song of Wraiths & Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (2020).

This trilogy continues to offer engaging page turns with rich world building and compelling characters. The series ends next year with The Chariot at Dusk (2021).

Five stars

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Love & Other Curses: 08/21/20

Love & Other Curses

Love & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford is a queer coming of age tale set in a small Upstate New York town. Sam Weyward is part of a cursed family. If he falls in love before his seventeenth birthday, he's doomed to die. He has nine weeks left and he's not expecting to fall in love, that is until a new guy comes to visit for the summer.

Sam's life is compartmentalized. He works days with his father at the Eezy-Freeze. He spends his evenings at the local gay bar where he experiments with finding a drag persona. He spends his nights making random phone calls — until he finds a friend who is an aspiring musician.

Through his friendship with the boy visiting for the summer and his exploration of drag, Sam spends a lot of time wondering about sex attraction and gender. He knows he's gay. He knows he's cis. He knows the boy is transgender. He hopes the feeling are mutual but has to face the reality that his new friend is as straight as he is gay.

But the most interesting piece to this novel is the side plot of the phone calls. They are the means by which this novel finds itself on the road narrative spectrum. It's a spot that can be described as Holes meets Landline.

Both Sam and the woman he talks to can be seen as marginalized travelers (66). Neither has enough agency to do exactly what they want. In Sam's case it's because he's a minor and he's stuck in a small town.

The destination for Sam is uhoria (CC). His talks with the woman give insight into his family's history. Like, Landline, though, it's also a literal conversation across time.

The route taken is the labyrinth (99). There is no immediate for danger and the route taken by the woman has already happened. It could be argued that the route is dangerous for her, but ultimately the novel is from Sam's point of view, so his journey is the one setting the placement in the spectrum.

All together, Love & Other Curses is the story of marginalized travelers going to uhoria via a labyrinthine path (66CC99).

Four stars

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Cleopatra in Space: Fallen Empires: 08/20/20

Cleopatra in Space: Fallen Empires

Cleopatra in Space: Fallen Empires by Mike Maihack is the fifth book in the Cleopatra in Space series. After the disappointing use of native stereotypes in The Golden Lion (2017) I didn't look for a new book. But learning now that there are two books, the sixth one being the conclusion, I decided to keep going.

This volume seeks to fill in the blanks for what happened to Egypt when Cleopatra was brought to the far future where she has been living. It also explains how the big bad of series was once her friend and how hardship and time had turned him. His identity was revealed in The Secret of the Time Tablets (2016)

In Fallen Empires, Cleopatra is secondary to the character arc of Xaius Octavian throughout the ages. There's a lot of rapid passage of time, and some of the scenes are done through art alone, meaning the passage of events is up to interpretation.

The artwork is tight and back on track. The emphasis is on character building and world building within the realm of Yashiro Academy. There are no disappointments in this volume.

The final volume, Queen of the Nile was published earlier this year. I will be reviewing it soon.

Five stars

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The Pawful Truth: 08/19/20

The Pawful Truth

The Pawful Truth by Miranda James is the eleventh book in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. Charlie is auditing a medieval literature class at the university where we works part time. The other older student ends up dead the day after Charlie turns down her offer of being study-buddies.

On the homefront, Charlie has a new border, an author who says he's refurbishing his home and needs somewhere quiet to stay. From the very get-go, Charlie feels there's something off about him, but he says yes.

What unfolds is a weird love triangle with multiple murders. A ton of time is wasted on wondering about everyone's possible relationship with everyone else involved. So much of this filler stems from Charlie's insistence on Southern propriety. But again and again he's been shown that no one in his circle of friends and acquaintances is as nice and proper as everyone pretends to me. I wish Charlie would grow a little more cynical.

The twelfth book is Careless Whiskers (2020).

Four stars

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Yak and Dove: 08/18/20

Yak and Dove

Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear and Esme Shapiro is a picture book in the style of the Frog and Toad books. Yak and Dove are friends and through three stories, their friendship is explored.

The book opens with Dove asking Yak to imagine what life would be like if they were twins. Through their discussion they realize just how different they are. This causes some strife and it looks like they will stop being friends.

The second story is Yak's search for a new friend. He holds an audition. With the help of Marmot, they narrow down the list to three friends. But how well can a talent show predict a lasting friendship?

The final story is about Yak needing a quiet place away from the noise of the world. Dove helps in their own way so that Yak can have the place they want to don't know how to make themselves.

Each story and the interstitial pieces are beautifully illustrated by Esme Shapiro. That palette is earth tones, reminiscent of Frog and Toad, but with a wider range of colors, and a softer selection — almost but not quite pastel.

There aren't any more Yak and Dove books. If there were, I could gladly read them.

Five stars

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These Witches Don't Burn: 08/17/20

These Witches Don't Burn

These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling opens with Hannah still smarting over her breakup with her girlfriend (and once upon a time best friend) Veronica. They broke up after a disastrous trip to New York when a Blood Witch went after them. Now it appears that a Blood Witch has come to Salem to do them harm.

Things go from bad to worse when a fire breaks out at a party. Hannah uses her Elemental magic to save a trapped boy. Rule number one is don't use magic in front of Regs (non-witches). She's broken it and now someone is hunting her, her friends, and her coven.

Essentially this book is paranormal murder mystery. Hannah and her new girlfriend, Morgan, are the sleuths. Veronica is the annoying the ex whose help she needs. There's lots of action, angst, and danger.

The sequel is This Coven Won't Break (2020).

Five stars

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See You On a Starry Night: 08/16/20

See You On a Starry Night

See You On a Starry Night by Lisa Schroeder is a middle grade novel about returning to your roots when it's time to start over. Juliette and her older sister are moving into a beach bungalow in Mission Beach, San Diego, after their parents have decided to separate.

On their first day there, Juliette meets a neighbor, Emma, on the beach. Together the two toss messages in bottles into the sea. Their hope is to start a conversation with someone elsewhere in the world. One of their bottles washes back onto the shore, unbeknownst to them, and the person who found it writes back and suggests that they start a Starry Beach Club.

But! Before this mysterious person agrees to meet in person, they want the girls to do one good deed. The remainder of the book is primarily their attempts to do a good deed. Those attempts also introduce the rest of the neighborhood.

It's a sweet little story, though Mission Beach doesn't feel like the Mission Beach I remember. It feels more like Pacific Beach, which sits just north of Mission Beach. It's a small quibble and doesn't affect the overall plot. It's just something that might jump out at San Diegan readers.

There's a sequel: Wish on All the Stars (2019).

Five stars

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Trouble the Saints: 08/15/20

Trouble the Saints

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson is set in New York on the cusp of the United States's entry into WWII. Phyllis is an assassin driven by prophetic dreams tied to reading the cards. She wants out of the business and a quiet life with her boyfriend Dev, and their mutual friend, Tamara.

This novel has a similar narrative structure to her earlier book, The Summer Prince (2013) but with a vastly different setting. Where one was a futuristic, matriarchal Brazil, this is Harlem and Queens. The first part is told from Phyllis's point of view, the second from Dev's, and the final one from Tamara.

Beyond the magical aspect, Trouble the Saints is an examination of institutionalized racism. Phyllis can pass as white, something she uses to her advantage when she's working as an assassin. Dev, can too, to some degree. But together they can't. Their child probably won't be able to. While there are gun and knife fights, it's the difficult decisions the three characters have to make on the personal level is where the most compelling conflict lies.

Five stars

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The Do-Over: 08/14/20

The Do-Over

The Do-Over by Jennifer Honeybourn is a second change at romance. It has a similar set up to The Locket by Stacey Jay (2011), except that it's a one way trip, a single second chance.

Emilia has a great life. She's dating the popular boy. Her parents are planning a trip to Italy. Everything is going her way. And then six months into her relationship, the day before the family trip to Italy, Em's best-friend Alistair admits he has feelings for her and she's forced to rethink everything.

Conveniently for her, Em encounters a fortune teller. She's given the chance to buy a gem that will give her a second go at things. When she wakes in the morning everything will be different. And there are no take-backs.

The majority of the novel is the what happens after she makes the wish and wakes up. The changes are more reaching that she could have ever expected. I also suspect some of the changes were influenced by her father's wish she overheard on the way to bed.

The first couple chapters cover so much plot — enough to cover 2/3 of a more traditional YA romance, that I was caught off guard. In all honesty, I had forgotten the time travel aspect when I started reading. But this one-two punch in the first fifty pages serves the same purpose as the first couple chapters of Belly Up by Eva Darrows (2019). The events are necessary but it's the consequences of them where the meat of the plot is.

Em's journey is also one that can be charted on the road narrative spectrum. Emilia is the only one who retains memories of the original version. While she is connected to what was, she is orphaned from what is, including life skills like her job, driving, and home repair. Thus she is an orphan traveler (FF).

Her destination is uhoria (CC). While she doesn't go back in time for to the far future, she goes to an alternate present.

The route is the cornfield (FF). Why? Her opportunity to travel to uhoria begins at a carnival. Where do they set up usually? In fields just outside of town.

Thus The Do-Over can be summarized as an orphan traveler's trip to uhoria via the cornfield.

Four stars

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Grand Theft Horse: 08/13/20

Grand Theft Horse

Grand Theft Horse by G. Neri and Corban Wilkin is nonfiction based on a recent trial where the charge was grand theft horse — a law on the books but rarely used since the advent of the automobile. Although the events took place in California and initially began in nearby Pleasanton, I completely missed them. Instead I bought the book because I liked the title.

The book opens with a black and white photo of G. Neri standing beside Gail Ruffu. What follows is brief introduction on how she recounted her history of being a wanted woman, charged with grand theft horse. The remainder of the book is her story.

Gail Ruffu is a horse trainer. How she became one is included in the book. The important thing to note is that she's anti-doping and anti-whipping. She believes horses should be given time to heal from their injuries.

In the early 2000s Ruffu had the chance to buy a race horse. Being short on funds she called her lawyer to see if he wanted to partner with her. While he had been a good lawyer when she was his client, as a partner he was Mr. Hyde. From the get-go he screwed her over.

When it was clear Ruffo wouldn't be able to train Urgent Envoy as she wished and it was even more clear that his injury would become a fatality if the lawyer and his buddies forced him to run early, Ruffo took her horse and hid him somewhere.

Thus began the years long legal fight over who had ownership and whether or not Ruffo could continue to work in California as a trainer. The racing commission is led by the very men who profit off racing and it's misogynistic and corrupt.

This memoir is a page turner. It's an interesting read against the on-going problems at Santa Anita. Horse racing is deadly to horses. Lives are tossed aside at the slight chance of profit, driven by greed and stupidity.

Five stars

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To Kill a Mocking Girl: 08/12/20

To Kill a Mocking Girl

To Kill a Mocking Girl by Harper Kincaid is the start of the Bookbinding mystery series. Set in Vienna, Virginia, it follows Quinn Caine as she adjusts to life back home after working abroad for a decade. Her cousin is now a nun. Her high school bully is engaged to her ex-boyfriend. And then the bully ends up dead!

Like A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette (2020) and Bad Housekeeping (2017) by Maia Chance follows the new trend of the thirty-something protagonist heading home after life away from home has turned out as they had hoped it would. Thus the amateur sleuth has a support mechanism from the very get-go. I find this trend refreshing after a decade and a half of every series starting with a dead relative in a far away town.

The pacing of this debut volume seemed off. The first act is Quinn's return home as well as the murder. Interestingly, within the first couple of pages, a murder is mentioned that happened weeks before she moved home. Frankly I hoping the page two murder would be the murder for the book. Instead it ends up being a distraction for acts one and two.

The second act is the bulk of the investigation. As there wasn't much time spent introducing all the possible suspects and motives, as a reader there isn't much to go on. Instead we're completely reliant on what Quinn knows and where and how she decides to investigate. Again, with a brand new character in a brand new series, it's hard to recognize what will be good leads or to predict how the protagonist will go about her hunt for clues.

Thankfully things gel in the final act. I hope future books will follow the flow of clue finding, logical reasoning, and derring-do of the last hundred pages. It's on the strength of the closing act that I am hoping for a second book.

Three stars

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Breaking the Mould: 08/11/20

Breaking the Mould

Breaking the Mould by Victoria Hamilton is the eighth Vintage Kitchen mystery. It's Christmas again and the historical society is getting ready for the annual Dickens Days. This year a family has moved into the house next to where they build the stalls. Evan Nezer, the owner, threatens to sue when the popcorn stand's supports are hammered into his property. That's the first of many run-ins the historical society will have with him until his untimely death.

Nezer leaves behind a wife, an ex-wife, a son, a housekeeper and her son. All of them are awful people in one way or another and one of them is probably the murderer. The basic set up reads like a mixture of two Miranda James mysteries: Classified as Murder (2011) and Six Cats a Slayin' (2018).

Namely it's a mixture of an awful family vs. murder at another Christmas party. But this one suffers from being too Dickensian. Evan Nezer isn't the only one with a similar sounding name to the characters from A Christmas Carol (1843). Each of the major players has a name that's akin to ones in Dickens's novel. The name choices are distracting and unnecessary.

Three stars

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Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party: 08/10/20

Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party

Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party by Yumi Heo uses the sun and moon as a metaphor for opposing points of view. The sun sees the daytime activities. The moon sees the nighttime ones. They argue over tea about how the world works.

The best part of this book is the artwork. Illustrator Naoko Stoop paints on wood, creating a unique look. I picked the book specifically for her artwork.

But the illustrations can't hold up a cliched tale that completely ignores how sun and moon as celestial bodies actually work in our sky. These types of stories usually fall into this trap of thinking: where the sun is always at daytime and the moon is always nighttime.

When the cloud helps the sun and moon stay up past their bedtimes, I hoped it would segue into a metaphorical discussion of the phases of the moon. But no. The moon remains full and except for this one day, only comes out at night.

Three stars

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My Brigadista Year: 08/09/20

Not Like the Movies

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson is a middle grade novel set in 1961 during Fidel Castro's national literacy campaign. Thirteen year old Lora is recruited from her school to go out into rural Cuba to teach farmers how to read.

Through Lora's few months on the brigade, middle grade readers will learn about the early years of communism in Cuba and how children ages 10 to 19 were recruited for this project.

There's not a strong sense of Lora as a three dimensional teenager living and working in rural Cuba. There also isn't much in the way of exploration of communism in Cuba. It's really more just a dot-to-dot history lesson with a fictional narrator.

Two stars

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Not Like the Movies: 08/08/20

Not Like the Movies

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey is the sequel / companion piece to Waiting for Tom Hanks (2019). Chloe, best friend to now married screenwriter, Annie, is trying to live her life in the aftermath of being the inspiration for the rom-com Annie wrote.

The world knows her and her boss as Zoë and Rick. While the notoriety is good for Nick's coffeeshop, both are getting sick of the constant questions regarding their real life relationship. Sure, they have chemistry but they aren't a couple. They aren't going to be a couple, right?

Chloe's life is the coffeeshop and caring for her father. He has early onset Alzheimer's. Chloe has a mother but she left and remarried years ago. She also has a brother but he's in New York, too caught up in his own life to help out at home.

Not Like the Movies is what I was hoping for from the first book. Chloe is a cynic but still has hopes and dreams. She wants to start a bakery. She's attracted to Nick but she doesn't live her life based on lessons gleaned from Nora Ephron romcoms. Basically, this book is more grounded and less reliant on a reader's knowledge of a very specific fandom.

Five stars

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Curse of the Were-wiener: 08/07/20

Curse of the Were-wiener

Curse of the Were-wiener by Ursula Vernon is the third of the Dragonbreath books. This time the entire adventure takes place in Danny's home town, so the bus doesn't feature. Instead, there's something amiss with the already dubious cafeteria lunches at school.

Turns out the wieners are from Transylvania and they've gone rogue. Students are being bitten and are slowly turning into were-wieners. Can Danny find the alpha and kill it before his best friend turns?

Chart showing the progression on the road narrative spectrum of books 1-3.

In my post about Attack of the Ninja Frogs I commented on how the route had remained the Blue Highway because of the reliability of the 3 O'clock bus. This time, though, the bus doesn't go to Transylvania and the alpha is already in their town.

With the bus no longer the mode of transportation both the destination and the route change, but the spectral neighborhood stays the same, determined by the type of traveler. As Danny and Wendell are still the main characters, and are still children, they remain marginalized travelers (66).

The destination, this time, is the city (00). Specifically it's the city sewer system. The threat has come to them and needs to be faced in their city. They need backup, through, in the form of a former enemy — the sentient potato salad that escaped from the very same cafeteria.

The route taken is the maze (CC). The maze is in the form of the sewers. There is danger in the form of the potato salad, rats, the sewage itself, and the possibility of Wendell turning.

All together Curse of the Were-Weiner is the story of marginalized travelers going through the city via the maze to save their school from a supernatural terror (6600CC).

The fourth book is Lair of the Bat Monster (2011).

Four stars

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Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed: 08/06/20

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson looks at the events that led to Diana leaving Themyscira and her life as a refugee. We see how a young woman raised on a secretive and insular island ends up being a superhero, swearing to protect the very people her Amazon sisters refuse to acknowledge.

In the opening chapter Diana is celebrating her Born Day, feeling a confused mixture of joy and fear. She's been told she'll be free of her clumsiness on her 16th birthday and will once again be as strong and coordinated as the other Amazons. She's also feeling worried at being too different. She is the only islander to have had a childhood.

The second act is set in a refugee camp. Here Diana learns about human suffering, war, and illness. It's here too that we learn Diana's other inherent power: being able to speak, understand, and read all human languages. It's through this skill that she makes herself useful in the camp and earns her way out.

The majority of the plot, though, is in New York. It centers on gentrification, human trafficking, and how poverty affects children during summer when school's out. After all the adventure, the graphic novel settles into being a mystery, one that Diana and her new friend can solve together.

All of Diana's story, though, fits into the road narrative spectrum. While she's not technically an orphan — she is removed from her family by a storm and the invisibility of her home island. Thus she qualifies as an orphan traveler (FF). Her destination is New York City, or more broadly, the city (00). Her route across the ocean, on an airplane, and later across rooftops is an offroad one (66). Thus Diana's origin story can be summarized as an orphan traveling to the city via an offroad route.

Four stars

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Six Cats a Slayin': 08/05/20

Six Cats a Slayin'

Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James and Erin Bennett (narrator) is the tenth book in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. Charlie's life is busy at home with two grand-babies, Diesel, and now five boisterous kittens left on his doorstep. Meanwhile he's trying to avoid the unwanted advances of his new neighbor, a woman who claims to have ties to Athena but is someone no one seems to remember.

When the neighbor invites Charlie to a Christmas party, he wants to say no but feels like he can't. So he goes. Surprise, surprise, the hostess ends up dead. It's very clearly murder. While Charlie didn't do it, clearly one of his neighbors did. Who did it and why?

There are two mysteries here. There's the murder and there are the kittens. Of the two, I found the kitten mystery the more compelling of the two. They were clearly left by a child and that child clearly believes the kittens wouldn't be safe at home. Fear about the kittens leads to questions about potential child abuse.

The A plot, though, plays out like an awkward reworking of Out of Circulation (2012) with a different twist that's tied up in Athena's history.

The problem lies in the inclusion of gender identity as one of the big clues. It's mixed up into an otherwise passable plot involving a family pushed to do the unthinkable because of extreme poverty. The transgender stuff, though, is painfully awkward and serves only as a source of red herrings.

Book eleven is The Pawful Truth (2019).

Three stars

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Drawing Lessons: 08/04/20

Drawing Lessons

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands is about a woman taking a trip to Provence after a year of caring for her husband who was diagnosed with a rapid form of dementia. Arianna attends a two week long artists retreat.

After a slow start that lingers over Ariana and Ben's relationship, marriage, children, and his rapid decline, the novel settles into a delightful armchair tour of the landscape that inspired Van Gough. If you have any artistic inclinations, you will find yourself inspired to paint or draw.

Besides renewing her love of art and finding the creative energy to express herself after years spent with running a restaurant and being a parent, Arianna also finds love. Here's where I disagree with what's essentially the third act.

Yes, Ben isn't the man she spent her adult life with. Yes, he never will be again. Yes, he will probably die soon. But she's still married to him. If this new love of her life is the real deal, he would be willing to wait the few months for her. Shouldn't she go home to at least get her old life in order and possibly bury her husband before starting a new relationship in another country?

Four stars

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You Should See Me in a Crown: 08/03/20

You Should See Me in a Crown

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is set in Campbell, Indiana, a town obsessed with senior prom. Where some towns offer sports scholarships, this one offers them for the king, queen, and court.

Liz Lighty wasn't planning on running for Queen until her financial aid to Pennington College fell through. To keep her grandmother from selling her house to fund her education, Liz is going all out to win the crown.

Liz goes into the contest knowing it's flawed and antiquated. There are homophobic / transphoic rules. No same-sex dates to the prom. Participants must dress/compete as their assigned at birth gender.

In the usual mix of the competitors, there's a new girl. She has ties to the town but is a new comer. They're competing against each other but they're also falling in love. Can they stay in the competition but still be true to each other?

Throughout, I loved Liz's voice. She remains upbeat even when things appear to be against her. That's not say she's always polite or always perfect. She's sarcastic in an intelligent, geeky way.

Although this novel is set during the last weeks of the school year, the set up and the basic vibe, reminds me of If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann (2019).

Leah Johnson's next novel is Rise to the Sun (2021).

Five stars

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July 2020 Sources: 08/02/20

Previous month's book sources

July was the fourth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. Time at home was still caring for puppy, painting, playing video games, chores, reading, and now reading through the news. Later this month our oldest will be moving to Los Angeles to start college and that has added a new layer of worry.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In July I read 19 TBR books, up from June's 16 TBR. I also read one book published in July. Eight books were for research. None were from the library. The higher TBR number resulted in my best ever ROOB score, dropping from -2.86 to -4.03. That score out does all previous scores, outdoing October 2019's -4.00.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

July 2020, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. I am continuing to focus on reading through my 2018 and 2019 purchases. Hopefully that will mean another low month, although it probably won't be as low as July's.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for July improved slightly from -2.75 to -2.86.

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This is Edinburgh: 08/02/20

This is Edinburgh

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek is the fifth book in the This is... series. This one is a 1960's look at the capital of Scotland. I read this book for two reasons: to continue with the series, and to get a quick primer since two of the YAs I was reading were set there.

Having never been to Scotland and not really knowing much about the country I can't really comment on how accurate Sasek's portrayal was or how much it has changed since first publication.

I can say that it's another journey through a well-known city via Sasek's distinctive art style. The artwork holds up and the facts about the city are still interesting. Newer editions will include an afterword with a list of things that have changed between original and current publication runs.

The next book is This is Munich (1961).

Four stars

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(Im)perfectly Happy: 08/01/20

(Im)perfectly Happy

(Im)perfectly Happy by Sharina Harris follows four long time friends. They call themselves the Masterminds and after three years, they've agreed to go all out and follow the dreams they'd set aside.

The audiobook uses a different narrator for each of the protagonists. Each chapter follows one of the women through their ups and downs. Giving each woman a literal unique voice makes each one shine in her own way.

There's Raina: a woman who wants to be a writer but has made a name for herself as a self help radio DJ. She gives sugary sweet advice in a buttery tone of voice and then plays a song to match the advice.

Kara wants to be a master sommelier by thirty. She's failed the final test and buried her mother. She has one last chance but she's scared she'll fail again.

Nikki was a musician. Now she's a stay at home mom. Her daughter goes to an exclusive private school with a PTA she hates. Her son is barely potty trained.

Finally there's Sienna. She's a public defender with city council aspirations. But she's put that aside for her fiancé, who is running.

Each woman also has a man. Two are married. Two are engaged. All of them swear they are happy. But all of them need more from life than what they have. All of them will find their relationships challenged.

It's a rollercoaster of four women uplifting themselves, pushing themselves, taking themselves sometimes to the breaking point, but rising up to become the people they dreamed they could be. It's about love, loss and fear.

Five stars

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July 2020 Summary: 08/01/20

Reading report

July continued the COVID-19 shelter in place and my husband has been told to expect to work from home until the end of June 2021. Our oldest will be moving to L.A. and my husband helped her get an apartment as her college stopped guaranteeing housing for all freshmen. Our youngest will be starting high school with remote learning for some period of time to be determined.

I read the same amount of books in July, 28, as I did in June. The vast majority of my read books met the diverse reading goal.

On the reviews front, I also had a good month, with nineteen books qualifying.

I still have 2018, 2019, and 2020 read books to post on my blog. My reviews to post from 2018 is down to 8 from 10, and my 2019 books to review are down to 8 from 11. This year's books are at 60 of the 207 books read.

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