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April 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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Like Home: 04/30/21

Like Home

Like Home by Louisa Onomé is a YA novel about a teenage girl trying to save her neighborhood. On the one hand it has been suffering a slow but steady death of attrition since the shooting death of a girl in an arcade. On the other hand, gentrification has come and the hold outs are being bought out.

Chinelo or Nelo to her friends has a daily routine that involves picking up her best friend Kate at her family's store. They grab a snack and then ride the bus to school. Except one morning all that changes when someone throws a brick through the window and the store is forced to close until the insurance can kick in.

The closing of the store in Ginger East brings the neighborhood to a breaking point. More families plan to move. A high school classmate and social media influencer decides to take advantage of the situation.

All of this is set in a fictional neighborhood in western Toronto and near Cooksville. While Nelo clearly loves Ginger East, it takes most of the novel to really ground her into a understandable sense of place. There would have been more of an emotional hit if Nelo's neighborhood was more of a character beyond the store and the bus stop.

Louisa Onomé's next novel is Model Minority with a release date sometime next year.

Four stars

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The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas: 04/29/21

The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas

The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the first of the Valentine Lovelace duology. It's the last one I'll be attempting. It's chock full of racist language and tropes and not much else.

Valentine Lovelace has headed west to be a penny dreadful author in San Francisco. In Draco Texas she's kidnapped by Comanches and will surely suffer a fate worth than death. Fortunately for her they're distracted by a dragon which from the cover looks like an overgrown iguana.

The Comanches each have a white person's idea of a "funny" sounding Native American name. Maybe over the course of the book they become more like people and less like caricatures but I doubt it.

If Valentine's captors weren't enough, she has a long suffering Chinese or possibly Chinese-American servant. While the woman herself is written as a competent character with some amount of agency, her given name is Wy Mi, aka "Why me." Ha ha, so funny — if you're a racist ass.

One star

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Julieta and the Diamond Enigma: 04/27/21

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma by Luisana Duarte Armendáriz is a young middle grade novel centered on Greco/Roman art and mythology, and a missing diamond. Julieta is the daughter of two museum art experts.

She and her father are traveling to France to pick up some pieces on loan from the Louvre. Things start going awry from the moment they arrive. Blame falls on Julieta and her father because of her history of mishaps. Julieta knows, though, that something more sinister is going on.

As a mystery, I found the clues engaging and challenging. Julieta may be young and impetuous but she knows her stuff. She's also willing to do research when she doesn't know something. She is a sleuth in the vein of Trixie Belden. The solution to the mystery is a satisfying one, one that pulls on Julieta's expertise and should be something observant readers could solve.

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz is currently working on a second mystery for Julieta to solve. I am looking forward to reading it.

Five stars

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Black Girl, Call Home: 04/26/21

Black Girl, Call Home

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a collection of poetry. The blurb describes it as being about "race, feminism, and queer identity." The poetry is raw, emotional, and often blunt.

The poems are collected together in themes: childhood, mother/daughter relationships, motherhood, single motherhood, death of a child, police brutality, being transgender, being queer, and so forth. Some of the poems quote other works. Some are taken directly from the news. Some bring in lyrics. For the ones that draw on other sources, there are footnotes.

I recommend everyone read this collection. It's important, especially if you're like me: a white person who grew up in suburbia.

Five stars

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Rockridge: 04/25/21


Rockridge by Robin Wolf and Tom Wolf is a pictorial history of a one time city that is now a neighborhood in Oakland. The book also covers Upper Rockridge which it doesn't define as a separate neighborhood like Google Maps does.


Upper Rockridge

Rockridge got its first big boost in the months and years following the 1906 Earthquake. Families who couldn't afford to rebuild in San Francisco, or didn't want to, or perhaps were renting, initially set up tent cities in Rockridge. At the time area was primarily farm and grazing land.

Besides being affordable, the area had rail connections to connect both San Francisco (via a ferry) and Sacramento. The rail lines are long gone, replaced by highways 24 and 13 and BART. Looking at the stops through Oakland and points east, I'm sorry to see the rail line gone. The areas served are different than what BART serves.

The rising popularity of the automobile opened up development to Upper Rockridge. This is an area of hills. As an automobile was the bare requirement for life there, this housing development catered to the wealthy white. Later sections in the book cover the art scene, the building of the highways and BART, and finally the firestorm that swept through the Oakland hills in 1991.

Not every building or location covered in the book is extant. Many were lost in the name of progress (see BART and the highways). Others were lost to fire (not all during the firestorm). But a handful still exist and can be found on Google Maps.

Four stars

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Lullaby For Eggs: A Poem: 04/24/21

Lullaby For Eggs: A Poem

Lullaby For Eggs: A Poem by Betty Bridgman started as a poem and was transformed into a children's book by author/illustrator Elizabeth Orton Jones.

It's a quiet poem comparing the Earth and more broadly, the environment, to a fragile egg. As eggs are cared for, so should the Earth be. It's a good read along with The Mess That We Made by Michelle Lord and Julie Blattman.

I was pulled to this book by the beautiful illustrations by Elizabeth Orton Jones. They stand up to today's full color picture book illustrations, and are spectacular for 1955. I was fortunate to be given a copy in superb condition.

Four stars

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Read or Alive: 04/23/21

Read or Alive

Read or Alive by Nora Page is the third book in the Bookmobile mystery series. The Georgia Antiquarian Society's annual book convention is being held in Catalpa Springs. Unfortunately a pair of shady book dealers have taken advantage of elderly collectors, including Cleo's cousin, Dot. When the man who stole from Dot is found murdered, Cleo is on the case.

The focus of this mystery is based around predatory cons run on the elderly. Specifically it's how buyers can gain access to valuables or rare items when a person isn't interested in selling. The other half of this mystery stems from how beloved books can be butchered to make more money from multiple sales.

But ultimately the mystery is about forgery. When real things can't be had, convincing copies can be made and passed off as the real thing. With both types of cons happening at the convention, there are lots of motives for murder.

It was a fun follow up, probably my favorite of the series so far. I don't know if a fourth book is planned but I will definitely keep reading should there be one.

Five stars

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Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 3: 04/22/21

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 3

The English translation of Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 3 by Ryōsuke Takeuchi released in the second week of anime's second season. While the anime is jumping right into the Irene Adler plot, volume three instead revisits the relationship of Louis and William Moriarty.

Louis who was of frail health as a child is no longer as delicate. He has grown tired of being left out of his brothers' exploits. The Conan Doyle source material being repurposed for volume three is The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Rather than a paranormal dog, the monster is another aristocrat who is hunting people for sport. In this case, the prey are street children.

As I'm reading and watching the series simultaneously, I have to say I prefer the anime's restrained approached when it comes to the on-going atrocities of the ruling class. The violence perpetuated on the Baskerville estate is so twisted that the art is fetishizes the villains. I prefer the timing of the anime where the focus is moving to the government itself where Mycroft and Albert are working. I'm curious to see the fallout when William and Sherlock come to this realization or are forced to acknowledge it.

Volume four in English translation releases July 6, 2021.

Four stars

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Cloaked: 04/21/21


Cloaked by Alex Flinn is an urban fantasy set in South Beach, Miami, Florida. It blends together a half dozen fairy tales to cobble together a modern day quest by a shoe repairman for a princess and her cursed brother. While the basic plot is similar to Disney's adaptation of The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker (2002), the blending reminds me more of Gail Carson Levine's fantasies.

Johnny runs his mother's shop while she works a second job to keep the lights on. It happens to be inside the hotel that the Aloran princess is staying at. Of all the people present at her arrival, it's Johnny she takes a fancy to. By the end of her first day there, Johnny's been hired to track down the Aloran crown prince who has been turned into a frog somewhere in the Florida Keys.

In case anyone needs help figuring out which fairy tales are being used, each chapter opens with a quote from one of them. There's also a list of them in the afterword. For those familiar already with the stories, they are a fun hint of what's to come.

My one minor quibble with Cloaked is with the pacing. Once Johnny is given the magical means to travel, he ends up blipping from place to place, sometimes multiple places in the span of a few hours. There is very little in the way of segue from scene to scene. If I had been listening to Cloaked as an audiobook, I would have spent a lot of time rewinding to see how one scene lead into the next.

Four stars

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The Night Gardener: 04/20/21

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is a middle grade gothic horror. Irish siblings Molly and Kip have been sent to an out of the way manor on a small island. The villagers try to warn them away, saying the woods around them are cursed but they press on and make their way to Windsor estate.

Reluctantly they are allowed to stay but only after Molly offers her and her brother's services for room and board only. She has endless work ahead of her as it's clear the woman of the house can't keep up with its upkeep, nor can she afford other help.

Kip whose specialty is gardening is told under no circumstance is he to touch the tree that dominates the estate. It has grown so close to the house to actually be in the walls. The tree will be the house's undoing.

While the overall atmosphere of The Night Gardener is similar to Mexican Gothic by by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020), the nuts and bolts of the narrative draw from a variety of classic sources (all named in the afterword). While reading, I was most drawn to the similarities with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898). The feeling of familiarity is strong enough that I plan to reread the novella soon.

Auxier's novel also has a place on the road narrative spectrum. Molly and Kit are sibling travelers (CC) who have been forced into being itinerant workers after the death of their parents. Their ultimate destination is a place they can call home (66). Their current route is through the cornfield, or more precisely, the tkaronto (FF) as represented by the ever present mildew brought into the house by the maleficent tree.

Five stars

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Death by French Roast: 04/19/21

Death by French Roast

Death by French Roast by Alex Erickson is the eighth in the Bookstore Café mystery series. Krissy's nosy next door neighbor has passed away and in helping her daughter clean up the house for sale, she comes across an old mystery. Her neighbor's brother was murdered when he was dating the then much younger Rita. Krissy decides to investigate and that leads to a modern day murder.

From what Krissy can tell, the original murder stemmed from the town's upset over the age difference. Wade, the dead brother, was significantly older than Rita. But is an age difference enough of a reason to kill a man?

Of the two mysteries, the cold case was fairly straightforward. At least the motive is. What kept me guessing, though, was the modern day murder. With such a gap in time, the question is, who would feel threatened enough to murder again? Also, who would still be physically capable of murder?

I was frankly surprised to see the book start with the funeral for a recurring, comedic foil character. Usually characters like this are there for the long haul — even when they are officially too old to still be alive. Or they are removed from the series by being written as the murderer after books and books of being a laughing stock. But this series is one of those rare ones where time between books seems to match the time between murders on a one to one basis. It's refreshing when so many novels have a narrative gap of a few months between murders.

The next book is Death by Hot Apple Cider. It releases October 26, 2021.

Five stars

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Fatal Fried Rice: 04/18/21

Fatal Fried Rice

Fatal Fried Rice by Vivien Chien is the seventh book in the Noodle Shop mystery series. Lana has signed up for a cooking class at a nearby community college to improve her management of the family restaurant. On the night of the first class, the teacher ends up murdered and Lana is on the case.

This mystery brings back the series back into its groove. There is a good mixture of potential suspects: new and old ones. Lana's investigation expands the map around Asia Village. It also gives more nuance to her family dynamics.

There's a good mixture of clues and red herrings. I got close to solving the mystery before Lana. Although I didn't figure things out, I still found the ride satisfying.

The eighth book is Hot and Sour Suspects. It releases January 25th, 2022.

Five stars

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Orsinian Tales: 04/17/21

Orsinian Tales

Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin is a collection of short stories from throughout European history but set in a fictional country, Orsinia.

Orsinia from clues in the stories is possibly Germanic. It's near the Iron Curtain but not in it. It's mountainous and agrarian.

Some of the stories drew me right in but none of them held my attention as well as her longer science fiction pieces. Le Guin's works are hit or miss for me and this one is mostly a miss.

Two stars

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In Your Shoes: 04/16/21

In Your Shoes

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart is a parallel plot with two narrators with important shoes. Miles spends all his spare time in his grandfather's bowling alley. When he forgets one morning to take off his bowling shoes before school, he choses to wear them every day for luck.

Amy is new to the school. She's living with her uncle now at the mortuary. One leg is shorter than the other, so she has to wear a shoe with a lift. Her first day of school begins with her being beaned in the head by one of Miles's bowling shoes.

Miles, though, is a good kid and apologizes without being coerced. He and Amy, slowly, and organically become friends. Their friendship also gives them the strength they need to deal with family issues.

The one thing that didn't work for me was the story Amy writes in her spare time. It's supposed to be her way of dealing with the stress of moving, being in a new school, and missing her father. But it's filler and it's presented with an unappealing typeface.

Four stars

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Black Sun: 04/15/21

Black Sun

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is the start of the Between the Earth and the Sky series. The holy city of Tova is preparing for the winter eclipse. This year is extra special because it coincides with a solar eclipse. Rumor has it, a god will return.

The book has a fantastic opening where a boy is taken by his mother for an initiation except she goes well beyond what he expected. Along with scarring his back she blinds him, thus opening up his body to be a vessel for the returning god.

Then the book spends the next three hundred pages jumping back and forth through time and to various points of view to show all the major players in the upcoming convergence. It's an ambitious attempt at storytelling but I never spent enough time with any particular character to get to know any of them. For me it was a confusing slog through a fascinating world.

The world building is the best part of Black Sun. It takes the pre-Columbian societies of Mexico and blends them with the peoples of the Four Corners area: Diné, Zuni, Hopi, etc. I kept reading for the world building.

Two stars

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Lost in the Never Woods: 04/14/21

Lost in the Never Woods

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a contemporary retelling / pastiche of Peter Pan by J M Barrie (1904). The source material while a personal favorite, is notably fraught with sexist, classist, and racist tropes. The last time I read Barrie's novel was 1988.

Aiden Thomas brings the novel forward to the present and moves the location from an middle class London neighborhood to Astoria Oregon. Fictional Astoria is more wooded and more wild than real world Oregon. It's also unfortunately devoid of pirates. Captain Hook et al do not make an appearance. In fact, Neverland, beyond it's reach through the Astorian woods, doesn't make an appearance.

Wendy Darling has just turned eighteen. She volunteers at the local hospital where her mother works. She plans to go to college to become an RN but her best friend is trying to convince her to aim higher.

Wendy, though, is burned out, haunted by the lasting effects of being the only child to return after she and her brothers went missing five years ago. She has no memories of her ordeal beyond that of a gnarled old tree and the figure of a boy. Both she draws obsessively.

Then new children start disappearing and a familiar boy appears on her drive home. Peter Pan has come to Astoria. Like in the original, he's lost his shadow and needs Wendy to reattach it. This time, though, the shadow is more powerful and it's evil. It's a side of Peter Pan that brings to mind the Peter Pan arc in Once Upon a Time.

Aiden Thomas returns to the themes of family, death, and loss. This time, though, there is no romance beyond a brief infatuation that Wendy feels for Peter as he ages into early adulthood. Instead the focus is on allowing oneself to grieve and how families struggle to continue living after the loss of a child (or children).

With the exception of Wendy (and perhaps her mother, if Peter's stories can be believed), lost kids (no longer just boys) don't come back from Neverland. They might leave and move on, but they don't return.

A chart showing the relative placements of Peter Pan and Lost in the Never Woods on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Both Peter Pan and Lost in the Never Woods sit on the road narrative spectrum. Where they sit, though, reflects on their different thematic cores. Peter Pan is about siblings (CC) traveling to a magical land, a utopia (FF), via an offroad route (flying to the second star on the right and straight on to morning) (66).

Lost in the Never Woods, meanwhile, is about a scarecrow/minotaur team (99) where Wendy wants to rescue her brothers and Peter is the embodiment of Neverland. To accomplish her goal, Wendy must recover her memories, a form of traveling to uhoria (CC). Wendy and Peter's route is through the cornfield, or more specifically the tkaronto. It's a journey through liminal space and time.

Four stars

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Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman: 04/13/21

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung is the first of three collections of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle's brother in law. Where Sherlock is a detective, Raffles is a thief (when he's not playing cricket). Bunny, his border and implied lover, is a writer and accomplice.

These stories are part slash fan-fiction from the end of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. Except the characters are the antithesis of Holmes and Watson. They are also caricatures of friends of Hornung, Oscar Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

But— Hornung's writing leaves me bored and restless. If Watson's hero worship of Holmes is bad, Bunny's is a whole level worse. While the first story where they meet and decide to rob a jewelers together is fun, the remaining stories I attempted were painfully slow and dull.

For a better "anti-Sherlock" that gets the original tone of the stories while still having fun with being a pastiche, I highly recommend the manga series, Moriarty the Patriot by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi. The anime, by the way, is also excellent.

Two stars

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All For One: 04/12/21

All For One

All For One by Melissa de la Cruz is the conclusion to the Alex & Eliza trilogy. It focuses on two things: Eliza's first pregnancy and Alex's relationship with Mrs. Reynolds.

For the Reynold's affair, Alex is written in an overly sympathetic manner. Essentially she puts all the blame on Mrs. Reynolds. Alex takes her on as a client, gets her a room where she can hide from her abusive husband, and she proceeds to seduce him.

I honestly don't know how complicit either person was. I also honestly don't care. I don't however believe that it was the near tragic hiccup in the Hamilton marriage.

As with the previous two books, I found the chapters written from Eliza's point of view the most engaging. Throughout the author seems to have had a clearer sense of what she might have been thinking and feeling. I honestly wish that the three volumes were cut down to one slightly long one focusing only on Eliza's half of the story.

Three stars

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The Magic Fish: 04/11/21

The Magic Fish

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen is a nuanced and layered YA graphic novel. Stories are woven together into one beautiful book that could honestly take a much longer and in depth analysis than what this short blog post will provide.

In the present it's about Tiēn wanting to tell his parents he's gay and hoping the boy he's been friends with for years also has feelings for him. In the past it's about how Tiēn's parents met and were forced to flee Vietnam. In the fairy tale it's about a young woman heading out on her own to avoid a life she doesn't want.

Throughout the book is about family, sacrifices for love, self esteem, and choices. Family is blood. Family is found. Family is friendship. Sacrifices can be leaving loved ones behind. They can be missing important events because money is tight. It can be having to mend and re-mend old things because new things are out of reach. Self esteem is self love. It's keeping secrets. It's leaving toxic people behind. It's taking chances on who to trust. It's being open. Choices are what gets a person through life. Good choices. Bad choices. Choices made when no option seems good.

Throughout this story is beautifully illustrated by the author. Two thirds of the book were hand drawn with traditional media. The last third was done digitally. If the introduction didn't mention the switch in technique, I wouldn't have noticed.

Five stars

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A Pho Love Story: 04/10/21

A Pho Love Story

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le is a YA romance set around competing Vietnamese restaurants. Bao and Linh met when they were little but they've been forbidden from talking since then. Their high school newspaper, though, brings them together on a project.

Bao who claims to be proud of his mediocrity finds a love of writing. Linh loses herself in her art. Their friendship grows and blossoms into more over the course of their newspaper assignments. As they are the children of restaurant owners, they've been given a restaurant review column. Bao writes and Linh edits and illustrates.

There's understandably a lot of emphasis on food, cooking, and running a restaurant. Don't read while hungry. It's a shame the book doesn't include any recipes.

Four stars

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Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 8: 04/08/21

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 8

Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 8 by Ryoko Kui begins lightheartedly. It feels like a one off, a humorous breather. But the back half is gearing up for a potential disaster. A dungeon that gets too big will end up destroying the town and people settled near it and the clock is ticking for this particular dungeon.

The first half opens with the humorous and embarrassing effects of eating or being too near changelings. They happen to look, act, and taste like mushrooms but they will make the affected into a different species for a while. The traveling companions get an uninvited opportunity to experience the particular strengths and weaknesses each species brings to the party.

But the rest of the book is right at the surface — the first room of the dungeon. Visitors are getting cocky. The dungeon appears to be an endless source of easy wealth. The battle that happens here is the first taste of how bad things are going to get.

Like the previous volumes, number eight also sits on the road narrative spectrum. While the previous two had been at the fantasy side of things, this one is back in horror. The travelers are once again united as a family (33). Their goal is to find a way to find a way of curing Falin. On a larger scale, they believe finding her cure might also bring about a way of neutralizing the dungeon's rapid expansion. Clues to both solutions are found in what they believe is the original homes (66) of the dungeon creators. The route they take is via an old funicular (00). Thus the forward progress the party makes can be summarized as a family looking for home via the railroad (336600).

Volume 9's English translation came out in January 2021.

Five stars

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Mistletoe Murder: 04/07/21

Mistletoe Murder

Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier is the first of the Lucy Stone mystery series. The original title, Mail-Order Murder, makes more sense in the overall context of the novel but also shows at a quick glance just how outdated this story is.

Lucy Stone works the night shift as a mail order company. It's coming up on Christmas so she's extra busy. At home she carries all of the emotional labor in planning the holiday events, decorating, baking, and buying gifts for the children. At work she discovers the founder of her company dead in his car of an apparent suicide.

While this book is packaged as a cozy, especially with the newer title (editions from 1998 onwards), there's a callousness to this book that later cozies lack. Cozy leads remain optimistic whenever possible. When there is a death, even after finding more than one body, the cozy sleuths grieve. Lucy lacks this level of engagement and reminds me more of Kinsey Millhone. The difference, here, is Millhone is a private detective.

Another thing that sets the book apart from a typical cozy is the early, grizzly death of the main character's cat. Cats and cozies go hand in hand. The cat is never harmed, unless it's destiny is to be a helpful ghost cat. This cat is just a dead cat who wasn't well cared for and isn't grieved over. Worse yet, the cat is a plot device to get Lucy in the right spot to learn some key information.

The next book in the series is Tippy Toe Murder (1994).

Three stars

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Feast: 04/06/21


Feast by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller is a cookbook based on a five month long roadtrip across Canada to every province and territory. Between each section: starters, mains, fish, etc. are stories of various stops along the way.

Each recipe also includes a story. You'll learn where the recipe is from, who created it or perfected it, and what native ingredients it uses. Most recipes also include a full color photograph to entice you to try it. For recipes that involve region specific ingredients, the book includes substitutes.

In tone, Feast reminds me of The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (1994). The big difference is that Feast is decidedly not vegetarian, though there are plenty of vegetarian recipes in it.

Four stars

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Float Plan: 04/05/21

Float Plan

Float Plan by Trish Doller is a romance set in the Caribbean. Anna is facing the year anniversary of her fiancé's suicide. Ben and she had planned to take their Alberg to a series of islands. Now on the anniversary Anna has decided to set out by herself. When she runs aground on her first day, Anna realizes she needs help and hires Keane Sullivan.

Keane Sullivan is looking for one last chance to prove himself before his thirtieth birthday. He'd had a promising career in sailing before losing his leg in a tragic accident. Since then he hasn't been able to find reliable work. His prosthesis weirds out most employers.

The yet to be named Alberg is as much a character as Anna and Keane. For the first two thirds or maybe even three quarters of Float Plan, the ship is in a love triangle with Keane for Anna's affections. With the ship being so important the narrative is detail rich in what it takes to live on a ship and navigate it both across open water and in and around island harbors.

I ended up reading Float Plan with Google Maps opened. Each destination mentioned, I would look up. Sometimes I would even take a moment away from reading to do some desktop exploration. I thoroughly enjoyed the attention to detail both in terms of the Alberg and for the sense of place.

Of course, this book is ultimately a romance. It's a nice, satisfying slow burn. As it takes place during a journey, there's a similar emotional vibe to Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher (2021) but with a realistic, contemporary setting.

Five stars

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The Library Book: 04/04/21

The Library Book

The Library Book by Susan Orlean covers the fire of the Los Angeles Central Library, as well as its recovery, and its history. On April 29, 1986, shortly after opening, the fire alarm sounded. By the time the library was evacuated, smoke was visible. The fire ended up burning so hot that metal bookcases melted and thousands of books ended up turning to ash. The reason you probably haven't heard of the fire is it happened the same day as Chernobyl.

The most fascinating parts of this book are the descriptions of the fire and the discussion of the library's architecture. Let's just say the architect didn't know jack shit about fire prevention or electrical wiring.

The building turned a smoldering fire set by an arsonist into a raging chimney fed inferno. But that still means there was an intentionally lit fire. Orlean goes into the history of the man who was accused (and acquitted) and interviewed his family.

But Orlean gets sidetracked by writing lengthy biographies of the various men who ran the library (as well as asshole Melville Dewey). Although there were women librarians in charge too, their careers are glossed over. Libraries are primarily, overwhelmingly run by women but men consistently get the majority of the attention, even in a book written by a woman.

Three stars

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The Hedgehog of Oz: 04/03/21

The Hedgehog of Oz

The Hedgehog of Oz by Cory Leonardo is a middle grade adventure that pays homage to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1899). Marcel the hedgehog has been living in the Emerald City movie theater with a pair of hens as he figures out how to reunite with his beloved Dorothy.

Something goes wrong and Marcel ends up in a truck, whisked away from the Emerald City. He ends up in a box in the center of Mousekinland. Marcel sees his situation as being remarkably parallel to Dorothy from the movie (as he's never read the book). If Marcel can follow the lessons of the movie, he might be able to get back to the movie theater, or more importantly, his Dorothy.

Looking, though, at Marcel's story from Baum's books, we can see that the hedgehog isn't starting from Kansas. Instead, he is starting from The Emerald City of Oz (1910) and in his desire to find Dorothy, is facing the problem of The Lost Princess of Oz (1917). Yet, the path he has to take from Mousekinland, to the theater, to ultimately his original home with Dorothy, will take him through the motions of the first book.

As Marcel's adventure is inspired by the Oz books (and movie), his journey home can be mapped on the road narrative spectrum. Marcel like Baum's Dorothy is an orphan (FF) in that he's separated from his family and friends. His goal is to get home, at first meaning the movie theater, but ultimately meaning his home with Dorothy (66). His route is through the cornfield as represented both by the corn the mousekin are trying to collet, and later by the popcorn that helps Marcel find his way back to the city (FF). Thematically then, Marcel's recapitulation of Dorothy Gale's adventure is an orphan traveling to home via the cornfield (FF66FF).

Five stars

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Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans: 04/02/21

Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans

Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans by Russell Ginns is set in Seattle and involves a worldwide caper and a search for a missing, presumed dead, uncle. While Samantha's sister receives an incredible amount of money, and her brother receives a baseball team, she is given an umbrella with holes.

Samantha, though, has a head for puzzles and eventually figures out the significance of her inheritance. This leads her on a worldwide trip exploring a map that at first glance makes no sense.

There's a lot of potential to these means of travel that could have been expanded beyond the two books in this series. There's a hint at a history similar to that of Warehouse 13 with a travel logic similar to that of the The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell (2018).

For the puzzle loving reader, the book is also chock full of hidden messages. There's a solution key in the back of the book to check your answers or see where and how they were hidden.

Samantha's initial adventure can also be mapped on the road narrative spectrum. As she and her brother end up traveling together, they are collectively sibling travelers (CC). Their destinations are various cities (00). Their mode of transportation while unusual serves as a railroad (CC) in that there are fixed routes with predictable stations if one can read the map. Summarized then, Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans is about siblings going to the city via the railroad (CC0000).

The sequel is Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs (2019).

Four stars

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March 2021 Sources: 04/02/21

Previous month's book sources

March was the twelfth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. Our oldest though was be able to come home for spring break. Ian's parents are still stuck in Canada. At the end of the month, Ian and I got our first vaccinations.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In March I read 13 TBR books, up from February's 12 TBR. I read five published in March. Five books were for research, with an extra one as a rare ARC. None were from the library. The five new books brought my score up from -2.48 to -2.21. Nonetheless, it was in the middle for March months for eleven years of tracking. I didn't make my predicted score of -2.21, but I was close.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

April will continue to have a mixture of new and previously month's books. As I'm running even with reading for what I'm reviewing, I predict another score around -2.2.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for March stayed put at -2.21.

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Twins: 04/01/21


In Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright, Maureen and Francine Carter have always done everything together. That's how it goes when you're twins in a tight-knit family. But now they're in middle school and they have separate schedules. Shy Maureen feels on her own as Francine rebrands herself as Fran.

Maureen is also faced with being enrolled in the cadet corps instead of p.e. She's terrible at marching and can't face getting her first B or worse. Her drill sergeant / teacher suggests she run for office as extra credit. That's the set up for the core plot, one that's similar to Act by Kayla Miller (2020) except that Maureen is running against her twin.

In this set up there will be a winner and a loser. The question here is how will the stress of the election affect the family and that unique bond that twins share. Midway through there's a moment where it appears their parents will force Fran to drop out, thus giving Maureen an uncontested win. Thankfully the twins manage to convince their parents that this is unnecessary.

What makes this book work is the character growth of the twins, their parents, and their friends. While they're are misunderstandings and miscommunications, everyone does eventually talk. Arguments happen. Feelings are hurt. People apologize. Hurt feelings are mending. Characters grow.

Five stars

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March 2021 Summary: 04/01/21

Reading report

March continued the COVID-19 shelter in place, bring us to our thirteenth month of shelter in place. Forty-seven percent of the state has received a vaccination. According to KRON4, seventeen percent of the state has been fully vaccinated. Ian and I received our first doses on March 31st.

I read more books in March, 24, up from 23 in the previous month. Of my February read books, an even number were diverse vs not. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Of those twelves read, three were queer. Of the reviewed books, eight were, marking my best month yet for this metric.

I have 15 books remaining from 2020 to review, and 32 books of the 82 books read this year.

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