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February 2021


Rating System

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



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The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage: 02/28/21

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy is part of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary stories. The Doctor and Martha are in the middle of nothing — a black void of nothingness but the TARDIS reports that they have landed somewhere. Martha opens the door to an English country.

Turns out Martha and the Doctor have found themselves in the middle of her favorite childhood mystery. With Martha's knowledge, she finds herself in charge of the situation.

While the mystery used as the backdrop is completely fictional, it does remind me of Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace. That's a testament to the established tropes of children's mysteries, especially those from the last century.

Here, though, those tropes are the Doctor's first clue to the true nature of where ever they are. By looking away from the illusion and by playing off script, he and Martha are finally able to figure out where they are and how to escape.

As I read fifty or more mysteries a year, I found The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage a fun mashup of genres. It's still a Doctor Who plot at its heart, but it's a genre crossover. It was entertaining to see them out of their element.

The next book in the series is Nothing O'Clock by Neil Gaiman.

Four stars

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Delivery to the Lost City: 02/27/21

Delivery to the Lost City

Delivery to the Lost City by P.G. Bell is the third book in the Train to Impossible Places middle grade fantasy series. Suzy Smith made the big decision to tell her parents about her part time job as a postie. They believe her but don't want her to keep her job. They are, however, willing to meet her coworkers. So at the opening of the book the Smiths are getting ready for the dinner they're hosting.

Dinner is interrupted with an urgent delivery request, one that Suzy and her coworkers can't turn down. An extremely powerful magic book is nearly overdue and in its last day of being checked out it's slurping up all text it's near. If they can get the book returned to a long lost city in time the lost text will be restored.

Another thing that sets this delivery apart from the previous two is the inclusion of Suzy's parents. They're brought along in a fashion that brings to mind Dorothy's aunt and uncle in The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1910).

Chart showing the placement of the three novels as well as the two alternate placements for the third novel

The inclusion of Suzy's parents also gives this book two different possible road narrative spectrum placements. From Suzy's point of view the travelers are family (33); the destination is uhoria (CC) because the city was known in history but is now lost; the route is, of course, the railroad (00). All together her version of the journey is traveling with family to uhoria via the railroad (33CC00). From her parents' point of view the travelers are still a family (33); the destination is the city (00), which from later research ends up being in a known location; the route is still the railroad (00). Summed up, the parents' journey is of a family going to a city via the railroad (330000).

For language nerds the city's location is given in its name (which I'm not stating here to avoid spoilers). It's a fun detail that doesn't take away from the rest of the story. There's plenty of excitement of racing the clock, surviving natural and unnatural obstacles; political intrigue, including a leader who reminds me a bit of a Baumian take on my country's 45th president.

This book is the conclusion of the trilogy, but there's plenty more that could be done. If Bell ever decides to revisit Suzy's life as a postie I will happily read her further adventures.

Five stars

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Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 7: 02/25/21

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 7

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 7 by Ryoko Kui takes a break from Laios's search for his sister to focus on Senshi, the party's chef.

At the start of the series Senshi's appearance and vast knowledge of what can be eaten and how to prepare it so it tastes good is welcomed without question. Now, though, as the party has learned more about the history and workings of the dungeon, they've begun to question how he came to know what to eat. Reluctantly Senshi explains.

Much of this volume is told in flashback while in the present a meal is prepared. Senshi explains how he was the last survivor of a group of miners who accidentally found themselves in the dungeon and were subsequently trapped. Senshi's cooking skills have grown out of necessity as food ran out.

The flashback also highlights the brutality of the dungeon especially in a time before resurrection spells. Senshi has been surviving on his own and living with some very dark memories.

Chart showing the progression through the spectrum of the eight volumes

Senshi's tale of survival also determines the placement of volume 7 on the road narrative spectrum (as an outlier series). Senshi as the sole survivor is an orphan traveler (FF). His journey has been through uhoria (CC), holding onto the past and looking forward to the future, wondering if he could ever go home or if he even wants to any longer. His route is through the maze (CC): the changeable, dangerous, trap riddled dungeon. Thus volume seven can be read as an orphan's journey through uhoria via the maze (FFCCCC).

Five stars

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Sprinkle with Murder: 02/24/21

Sprinkle with Murder

Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay is the start of the Cupcake Bakery mystery. Melanie and Angie have just opened their new cupcake focused bakery in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their first big client is a bridezilla who ends up dead after her two assistants pick up her samples for the cupcake wedding display.

With another bridezilla plot, I was reminded of Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico (2020). Except this one involves three rivals with local ties and a food truck rivalry similar to A Brew to a Kill (2012) and the more recent Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien (2019).

The actual mechanics of who committed the crime were pretty obvious, bringing the total list of suspects to under a half dozen. That said, there was good flow to the story and how the clues were discovered. There wasn't unnecessary filler but still enough food and business talk to keep things interesting.

The second book is Buttercream Bump Off (2011).

Five stars

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Ascender, Volume 3: The Digital Mage: 02/23/21

Ascender, Volume 3: The Digital Mage

Ascender, Volume 3: The Digital Mage by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen is Mila's escape from the planet. It's also the reunion of her parents. And there's more stuff with Mother.

This follow up series is an ambitious one. It's trying to be a separate series where magic is the focus in the same way that the end of mankind's relationship with robotkind was in the Descender series. It's also trying to bring in the old characters to continue their arcs. Unfortunately they aren't compatible.

The conclusion to volume three is what my husband calls a character hoedown. A character who has no business being part of this series shows up as the big damn literal deus ex machina he is. While I liked him as a character in the previous series when he was essentially the protagonist, I'm not convinced he belongs here.

As of writing this review, this is the end of the series both as comic issues and as collected volumes as I'm reading them.

Three stars

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This Spell Can't Last: 02/22/21

This Spell Can't Last

This Spell Can't Lastby Isabel Sterling is an ebook prequel to These Witches Don't Burn (2019). This is the trip to New York where Hannah and Veronica are lured in by some local witches and end up breaking up over the experience.

Normally I'm of the opinion that publication order is the way to go when reading a series, even if later stories are technically prequels. In this case, I would recommend anyone who hasn't started the series, start here. The extended flashbacks in the first book are disjointed and would work better if a reader goes into them knowing the full story.

Plotwise, though, the story reminds me of a combination of School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (2020) and Three Quarters Dead (2010).

Four stars

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The Library of Lost and Found: 02/21/21

The Library of Lost and Found

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick is about a woman learning to say no. Martha Storm has been working as a library aide and failing repeatedly to get a full time position as a librarian. The library director is an absolute ass and never even reads her application. Something in her snaps when she's not told that an author event has been canceled after she has done all the planning for it.

Martha's home life is also devoted to being an aide to everyone. Her childhood home is full of projects she's working on for others in the town. There's a co-worker's laundry. There's a dragon head from the local school. She has so many of these projects that she has a complicated color coded list to keep track of her progress on all of them.

In the middle of her breakdown, an illustrated book of short stories arrives in her life. She recognizes the stories as ones she wrote with her grandmother. The publication date, though, is years after her grandmother's death. Martha decides to use some of her free time from saying no to track down the truth behind the book.

Mixed into the present day tale of Martha learning to stand up for herself and track down the author of the book, are flashbacks to her childhood. While these parts help to explain her burnout and her reluctance to self-care, they come off as filler. There's enough in the present day plot to fill in the gaps.

Four stars

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Muted: 02/20/21

Muted

Muted by Tami Charles is a YA novel in verse about three talented teenage musicians whose lives are torn apart after they skip school to demo their music for a favorite star. Denver, Shak, and Dali get their friends to set off fire alarm at school so they can sneak away on the day that Sean "Mercury" Ellis is performing a shortish drive away. They get his attention, are given back stage passes, and are soon under his control.

The novel is told in flashback from Denver's point of view as she's at the airport, boarding a plane. Like The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling (2020), the verse is used to show Denver's emotional state. That said, I found it less effective here minus the prose bookends the verse.

Famous men whether in the music industry or other forms of entertainment have a long history of abusing the women who work with them or are otherwise close to them. With recent stories and the #metoo movement on social media it's no surprise to see recent novels covering this topic. I personally found Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (2018) far more engaging. The verse of Muted kept me too separated from Denver to feel the full emotional impact of what she experienced.

Three stars

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The Canyon's Edge: 02/19/21

The Canyon's Edge

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling was inspired by a tragic drowning during a desert flash flood. In Bowling's version, father and daughter both survive, but they are carrying the trauma of seeing a loved one gunned down in a restaurant.

Nora and her father go hiking in a secluded Sonoran canyon. It's the first time he has taken her anywhere since her mother died. He hasn't left the house either. The world is too unsafe, too unpredictable. He believes this out of the way piece of nature will be safe because there won't be people. He doesn't take into account the way a distant monsoonal rain can cause a flash flood.

The opening and closing of this novel are written in prose. The actual survival bit where Nora is separated from her father and she assumes the worst is told in free form poems. The poems are mostly short. They are all raw with emotion. Many of them mimic the shape of the canyon she is now struggling to escape.

Nora's time in the canyon can also be mapped on the road narrative spectrum. As the bulk of the novel is about Nora's survival on her own, she is an orphan traveler (FF). Her journey is through the wild lands (99) of the canyon in an effort to find her father and escape. The route, though, is through the labyrinth (99). While she and her father both face near death experiences, ultimately the experience is transformative, bringing them out of their extreme grief and making them ready to start living outside of their home again. Summarized, The Canyon's Edge is a poetic journey of an orphan through the wild lands via the labyrinth (FF9999).

Five stars

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Sunny Rolls the Dice: 02/18/21

Sunny Rolls the Dice

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm is the third of the Sunny graphic novels. This novel, inspired by the author's childhood, also explains Babymouse's active imagination.

In this novel, Sunny discovers Dungeons & Dragons. She joins a party of two boys she's friends with in class. Meanwhile the girls she's been friends with for years have started discovering boys, make up, and fashion. While she wants to be groovy she is utterly baffled by the allure of these things her friends are now so interested in.

Sunny Rolls the Dice is the closest this series comes to being a Babymouse recast with humans, illustrated in full color, and set in the late 1970s. The back of book includes photographs of the author playing D&D.

Five stars

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Stuck on Murder: 02/17/21

Stuck on Murder

Stuck on Murder by Lucy Lawrence is the start of the Decoupage mystery series. Brenna Miller has been enjoying her quiet reimagined life in Morse Point. She lives in a cabin by the lake, shares a love of baked goods with her landlord, and teaches decoupage at her fancy craft paper shop. Then everything is turned upside down when she finds the mayor's body.

Brenna Miller is a protagonist with an unpleasant past. She's like Olivia Taylor Jones, Jenna Quinn, and Mia Carina.

This series has the appealing small town locale, an amateur sleuth with a specific set of skills that might not seem relevant but somehow are. There's also crafting advice at the start of each chapter. It's your basic cozy mystery.

This series only has three books and I'm planning to read the remaining two. The second book is Cut to the Corpse (2010).

Four stars

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Hatch 02/16/21

Hatch

Hatch by Kenneth Oppel and Sophie Amoss is the sequel to Bloom. Anaya, Petra, and Seth are now at an underground military bunker with a bunch of other genetically modified teens. Meanwhile a new rain has brought a delivery of eggs that have hatched and are rapidly growing, breeding, and evolving.

The vast majority of this middle book in the trilogy is spent on the training, testing, and day to day routine of the teens. There's also more of Oppel's embarrassingly awkward attempts to write teen romance, a la Every Hidden Thing (2016). To put it bluntly, this book is boring. There's an alien invasion going on and we're stuck in a bunker with some of the least realistic written teens ever written.

Like the first book I listened to the audio. Here with a plot moving slower than molasses in January, Sophie Amoss's habit of carefully enunciating and drawing out each syllable made me want to throw my phone across the room. If I decide to finish reading this trilogy when the final book releases in May, I will be reading it as an ebook.

The third book is Thrive and it releases May 4, 2021.

Two stars

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Concrete Rose: 02/15/21

Concrete Rose

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is the prequel to The Hate U Give (2017). Set in 1999/2000 it covers the time when Maverick Carter went from being a teen with gang ties to being a father of a newborn with a second one on the way. This book is Seven and Starr's origin story.

In the original novel, I admit I wasn't very fond of Starr's parents. They weren't the main point, though, so I let my own reaction slide. Starr loved them and they loved her and that was enough. Concrete Rose fills in the gaps and makes Maverick and Lisa understandable and their relationship relatable.

Maverick does an amazing job as a teen father, especially in the early days when Iesha wants nothing to do with him or their son. He also takes the personal hit of not being able to graduate high school. Although he wasn't prepared for fatherhood he stepped up and accepted his role in life the instant he had to. Maverick, while young, ends up being one of the best fathers I've read in young adult fiction.

Five stars

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Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All: 02/14/21

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is historical fiction set in a Chicago orphanage during WWII. Frankie and her sister Toni were left at the orphanage when their parents could no longer care for them. Frankie has plans to escape and to take her sister with her. Their plight and plans are narrated by the ghost of a dead woman.

The ghost intersperses the story of Frankie and Toni with memories from her own life. But I had the same problem with her lengthy asides as I did with Death as the narrator of The Book Thief (2005). Basically, I found her narrative to be a distraction.

I normally tear through Laura Ruby's books. This one, though, didn't work for me. It's two parallel tales of young women being abused and abandoned by people they should be able to trust. The choice to have one of them narrate both as a ghost in an otherwise realistic historical fiction was jarring.

Three stars

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One Poison Pie: 02/13/21

One Poison Pie

One Poison Pie by Lynn Cahoon is the first full length book in the Kitchen Witch mystery series. Last year a novella, Chili Cauldron Curse was released in ebook and audiobook formats. I haven't read the novella yet; this book does a good job setting up the series and introducing the town and characters.

Mia Malone has moved to her grandmother's quirky town of Magic Falls, Idaho. It's near real world Sun Valley. Mia and her grandmother are kitchen witches — similar in intention to the brujas in the middle grade series, Love, Sugar, Magic by Anna Meriano. They aren't though the only witches in the village. There's an active coven and Mia will meet members of it.

Mia and her ex-boyfriend's sister are busy converting an old school into a catering event site. In the meantime they're catering off site. Their first big event ends up not happening because the host is murdered.

What keeps this mystery interesting is the inclusion of three plots. First is the murder mystery. Second there is Mia's on going feud with her ex and his desire to steal her recipes. Finally there is a so-called heir to the estate of the murdered woman.

With the inclusion of another obvious conman, I was expecting things to unfold in a similar fashion to Muffin But Murder by Victoria Hamilton (2014). Happily there's enough other things going on for the plots to diverge.

The second full length mystery is Two Wicked Desserts. It releases on July 27, 2021. In the meantime, there's a second novella, Murder 101 which releases on April 27th, 2021 in ebook format.

Two stars

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Made You Look: 02/12/21

Made You Look

Made You Look by Diane Roberts is a middle grade novel about a road trip to California. Originally it's supposed to be a flight but then Jason's parents decide instead to use a camper shell that's been not so fondly nicknamed the sardine can by previous owners.

Jason and his best friend are fans of a trivia game show called Masquerade Mania! It reads like it's been cobbled together from The Price is Right, Let's Make a Deal, and a Nickelodeon game show. The boys' goal is to get onto the show and of course win.

Having their plans thwarted by parents trying to save some money and have some quality time along the way results in pages and pages of winging. Made You Look isn't unique in this plot. It was a fairly standard plot in road trip stories involving kids from the 1980s. I honestly had to double check the publication date for this book because it feels fifteen to twenty years out of date for when it was published. That said, the original Ben-10 cartoon (2005), a contemporary with this novel.

Made You Look, though, doesn't have an extra-terrestrial / superhero plot hook to keep the whiny kids on a road trip story interesting. There is just a lot of complaining peppered with an endless stream of trivia practicing.

I read this book for the road narrative spectrum project. No surprise, it qualifies. Also no surprise, it sits in the bottom rung: privileged travelers going to the big city via an interstate highway (000000).

Two stars

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The 117-Storey Treehouse: 02/11/21

The 117-Storey Treehouse

The 117-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is the ninth Treehouse book. This time Terry the illustrator takes a hand at writing the book. What results is utter chaos and some very funny parodies.

In the utter chaos department, it's the Story Police. They don't like certain clichés. For example, "It was all a dream" is right out. It's a sure fire way of summoning the police.

On the parody front, there are a number of popular children's books and authors. Those are the obvious ones. But my all time favorite one is the long running gag that holds together the entire book. It's Terry's version of The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster (1963).

There's of course a tenth book, The 130-Storey Treehouse (2020).

Five stars

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Spells and Scones: 02/10/21

Spells and Scones

Spells and Scones by Bailey Cates and narrated by Amy Rubinate is the sixth book in the Magical Bakery mystery series. With the lessons learned from their first catering gig (see Some Enchanted Éclair (2014)), the Honeybee Bakery is catering the book signing of a local self help guru and radio star. At the end of the contentious signing, the author is found dead in the bookshop's back room.

Although there were plenty of obvious suspects at the signing, Katie Lightfoot doesn't believe any of them are guilty. While she's reluctant to once again investigate a murder, she knows she has to.

An interesting side plot involves Mungo, her familiar. Turns out the dog who showed up at the right moment in the first book (see Brownies and Broomsticks (2012)) has a history with another witch. Now she's one of the potential suspects!

My only complaint stems from my own mass consumption of cozy mysteries. The author who is murdered at their signing has been done many times. With the exception of Mungo's backstory, there isn't much here to set it apart from the other examples.

The seventh book is Potions and Pastries (2017).

Four stars

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A Curious Incident: 02/09/20

A Curious Incident

A Curious Incident by Vicki Delany is the sixth book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. Gemma Doyle reluctantly tells eleven year old Lauren Tierney that she's not a consulting detective. The girl, though, can't be convinced. That night Gemma and Violet manage to find the girl's missing cat. But that's just the start.

The real mystery is the murder of a local gardening expert, Anna. Lauren's misanthropic mother, Sheila, is accused of the crime. While she's a grump and a mediocre mother, Lauren is still convinced she's not a murderer.

The astute reader will recognize the quote the title is referring to. It's taken from The Silver Blaze by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892). If you don't get the significance, Gemma does and will explain it near the end as she realizes the solution to the crime.

While I've complained about the recent trend of serial mysteries opting for the obvious person to be the murderer, Delany makes it work here. There is enough other things go on to obfuscate the actual motive and clues to keep things interesting. On the other hand there aren't so many red herrings to be distracting or unbelievable.

Five stars

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The Nickel Boys: 02/08/20

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is historical fiction inspired by a real institution in Florida where boys were sent after they were arrested. Recently an unmarked graveyard was found where boys who had "run away" had actually be buried when the extreme punishments went to far.

The book opens in Frenchtown, a Tallahassee neighborhood. Elwood Curtis is a good kid with a promising future. He's worked most of his childhood and saved money. He's gotten good grades. He's gotten into college. He makes the mistake of hitchhiking to college and ends up being arrested. Being a black boy he's sent to Nickel Academy.

Elwood's story is told in a detached, near monotone and there's a reason for that. While the novel was inspired by a real place, how it unfolds is structurally similar to A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959). Both novels play on the reader's expectations.

What's different here is the thematic focus. Rather than being about privileged boys experiencing bullying and tragedy while avoiding WWII, it's about imprisoned boys being abused while the adults charged with their care benefit.

Five stars

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Audubon Cat: 02/07/20

Audubon Cat

Audubon Cat by Mary Calhoun and Susan Bonners is a standalone picture book from the author of the Henry the cat books. The illustrator, though, is different.

The cat here is Hilda the Huntress. She lives in a cabin in the woods. Her people have somewhere to go and leave her with a supply of dry cat good and a promise that they will return.

While I don't agree with leaving a pet cat unsupervised and out of doors for a period of time, Hilda's situation is the feline equivalent of the absent parents in so many children's fantasies.

So what's a cat to do? A cat is a predator. Hilda, though she seems to have no direct experience with it, knows she must hunt. Most of the story is her failed attempts at hunting until she finally realizes that she can just watch the wildlife and eat her kibble in peace.

Through the illustrations, though, Audubon Cat gives an overview of some North American wildlife. The emphasis is on birds but there are other creatures too. Some of the information is out of date, but the illustrations are still charming.

Four stars

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We Could Be Heroes: 02/06/20

We Could Be Heroes

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen is about superheroes who have memory problems. Originally it's a supervillain and a superhero but they team up pretty quickly. Jamie is the Mind Robber, a bank robber with memory access / erasure skills (and a cat named Normal). Zoe Wong delivers food for a living, has a drinking problem, and is also the Throwing Star, San Delgado's resident hero.

Jamie and Zoe share some things in common. Their memories only go back two years. They've had their powers for those two years. They live in apartments paid for by an unknown benefactor. Together they decide to uncover their pasts, their true identities, and stop whomever did this to them.

With a setting clearly inspired by the San Francisco Bay Area, We Could Be Heroes reminds me of Big Hero Six. Besides the setting, the way the protagonists interact with the antagonists is similar. There's a shared connection and a greater personal motivation for the evils being done.

I enjoyed the set-up of the world and the situation as well as the development of Jamie and Zoe's friendship. Unfortunately the pacing seemed off. Some scenes were too slow to unfold and other times there were huge jumps in plot and scenery that left me needing to re-read sections. We Could Be Heroes would be perfect, though, for a graphic novel or comic book adaptation. There's a lot here that needs to be seen.

The novel also happens to sit on the road narrative spectrum as Mike Chen's previous two have. This analysis might contain spoilers, so please skip if you don't want anything revealed.

Zoe and Jamie initially because of their opposition are a scarecrow and minotaur (99). Later their relationship to the true villains of the novel refines and reinforces their travel status. Their destination or goal, is the city (00) of San Delgado — initially as a place either stop crime or do crime. Later as they learn the true nature of the people behind their powers, the goal refines to saving the city. Their route is offroad as superheroes/villains do (66). Summarized, We Could Be Heroes is about a scarecrow and minotaur team saving the city via offroad means (990066).

Four stars

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The Scarecrow of Oz: 02/05/20

The Scarecrow of Oz

The Scarecrow of Oz by L. Frank Baum is the ninth book in the OZ series. Though written by Baum it's not part of the core novels. It does, however, illustrate a quirk of most of Baum's Oz books: the title has very little to do with the plot. The exceptions to that observation are Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1906) and The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913).

Super fans of Baum had also read the two Trot and Cap'n Bill books. Apparently there was high demand to see them in Oz and so they wash ashore on an island just outside Oz its desert border. At the point of reading this book, I hadn't read either of their non-Oz adventures and so didn't recognize them beyond them seeming like a knock off Dorothy and Raggedy-Man.

The novel is 272 pages, most of which has action outside of Oz. Readers familiar with the expanded map of Ozma of Oz (1907), will have trouble finding some of the places described here. Suffice it say, I think by book nine, Baum was bored with Oz and wanted to make up new worlds. Unfortunately he was also in failing health, so this later novel aren't as tightly plotted.

Interestingly, The Scarecrow of Oz is the first mention of immortality in the series. In previous books people did age and die. Now, though, perhaps faced with his own mortality, Baum gives immortality to Oz. Another change is the inclusion of a new Wicked Witch, one of the South who is vying for power with Glinda. Blinkie's skills are similar to Mombi's.

So how does the Scarecrow fit into the book named for him? Believe it or not, his piece, albeit late in the narrative, is what places this novel on the road narrative spectrum. While his overall participation in the journey is short, his piece is vital. He is the catalyst for a successful journey.

On page two hundred when Trot, the Captain, and Button Bright are utterly defeated, the Scarecrow appears. He has traveled south from the Emerald City on Ozma's orders. He is a literal scarecrow traveler (99), there to protect and to save.

The Scarecrow has traveled to the wildlands (00) of Quadling Country. The new arrivals to Oz have gotten separated, enchanted, and lost away from civilization. And yet, the Scarecrow can find them.

To show he has Ozma's magic to back him up, the Scarecrow makes his appearance in a cornfield (FF). There is no reason other reason for a cornfield to be here than to show he has taken the most magical (and dangerous) of routes possible to save Trot, the Captain, and Button Bright.

All together then, the novel's title choice can be explained as a scarecrow traveling to the wildlands via the cornfield to save the day (9900FF).

Four stars

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Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 1: 02/04/20

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 1

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 1 by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi is the start of a manga that has been adapted into a fantastic anime. Moriarty in the original canon is my least favorite of Holmes's adversary but he's a key part of the series and a favorite villain in adaptations, especially in various television series. This version of Moriarty, though, is by far the best version I've seen (followed in second place by Elementary's).

Moriarty, like Watson, is a man made up of inconsistencies beyond two key character points: loves math and has a love/hate relationship with Holmes. The manga answers the questions of his changeable character sheet through the addition of two other Moriarty brothers who work in conjunction as consulting criminals. They have decided for reasons explained in volume one to bring down the aristocracy, one asshole at a time. Where Sherlock has morals and an agreement to work (albeit reluctantly) with Lestrade, the bros. Moriarty have no such compunction.

Per the back of the book, illustrator Hikaru Miyoshi is a fan of Moriarty. When teamed up with Ryōsuke Takeuchi to create a more straightforward adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, the illustrator convinced the author to look at Moriarty's side of the story. In doing so, they've managed to create an adversary whose motivations make sense in the larger context of a life lived.

The second volume, originally published in 2017 was released in English translation on January 5th, 2021.

Five stars

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White Nights: 02/03/20

White Nights

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second Shetland Island mystery. It's midsummer on the island where the sun never sets and people get testy. Bella Sinclair and Fran Hunter are hosting a reception for their two woman show at Herring House but the party is ruined by an Englishman who claims to have amnesia and is carrying no ID. The next morning he's found dead in a nearby barn.

The basic mystery here plays out in a similar fashion to The Valley of the Lost by Vicky Delany (2009). Both mysteries center on an unknown murder victim, where the major hurdle is discovering who was murdered before the why and by whom can be investigated. The difference here is that the murder is tied to a decade's old disappearance which confuses the present day investigation.

Also like Valley of the Lost, Cleeves chose to clue in the readers before Detective Jimmy Perez or any of the other investigators. In both books, this means a change of location to a remote, out of country one. I did have to chuckle at the inclusion of Huddersfield only because of my five year following of Felix, and more recently Bolt, at the railway station.

The book was fun but not as compelling at Raven Black. The third book is Red Bones (2009).

Four stars

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Muffin But Murder: 02/02/20

Muffin But Murder

Muffin But Murder by Victoria Hamilton is the second of the Merry Muffin mystery series. Merry is getting Wynter Castle ready for a Halloween themed party with the hopes of wooing prospective buyers. She also has a possible heir who wants to split the estate. Before she can deal with him, she has another dead body on her property!

Getting Wynter Castle ready is going to be a multi-book process in between all the book specific murder mysteries. I'm honestly curious to see if the entire series will just be Merry trying to sell the estate! I know I could read the blurbs or reviews of later blurbs, but I'm choosing not to.

The particular murder is a grizzly one that is complicated by a large number of party crashers wearing similar costumes. There's also the location, an outside smoking spot, that Merry and her closest friends weren't really monitoring as none of them smoke. The solution this time reminded me of learning the trick to the shell game.

The book ends, by the way, with a marriage. Not Merry, but two of her friends. I'm going to admit that I didn't listen through the end of this coda.

The third book is Death of an English Muffin (2015).

Four stars

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January 2021 Sources: 02/02/21

Previous month's book sources

January was the tenth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. It was our first New Years as just a family of three. Our oldest was stuck in Los Angeles. Ian's parents were stuck in Canada.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In January I read 21 TBR books, up from December's 20 TBR. I read five published in January. Seven books were for research, running even with December. None were from the library. The five TBRs brought my score up from -3.76 to -2.91. Nonetheless, it was among my best January months for eleven years of tracking. That's better than my predicted score of -2.5.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

February will have a mixture of new and previously month's books. While I predict a better score, around -3.0, I hope I don't fall too far behind in my new purchases either.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for January improved slightly from -2.39 to -2.43.

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Santa's Husband: 02/01/20

Santa's Husband

Santa's Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and A.P. Quach is a short picture book. I usually avoid stories about Santa, especially ones about his spouse. This time, though, I had to read it; I'd never seen one before where he had a husband!

The first thing the book makes clear is that Santa is Black. The reason so many people make the mistake of thinking he's white is because his husband is a model. Santa's too busy in the workshop to make personal appearances. So that's where his spouse comes in.

Mostly though this book is a celebration of a quiet, happy marriage. It's about all the mundane things they do together when it's not the run up to Christmas. It's an absolutely delightful story.

Five stars

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January 2021 Summary: 02/01/21

Reading report

January continued the COVID-19 shelter in place. At the end of the month the statewide lockdown ended with some things opening again. Work and school, though, is still from home. We have no plans to go out to eat.

I read more books in January, 35, up from 29 in the previous month. Of my January read books, eighteen were diverse, up by two from the last two months. But given the much larger overall number read, my percentage was much lower, though still qualifying. On the reviews front, eighteen qualified. Of those sixteen read, four were queer. Of the reviewed books, four were.

One month in, I now have both 2020 and 2021 books in my backlog to review. I have 38 books remaining from 2020 to review, and 21 books of the 35 books read this year.

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