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July 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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Ozma: 07/31/21

Ozma by Candace Robinson

Ozma by Candace Robinson and Amber R. Duell is the third book in the Faeries of Oz series. At the end of Crow (2020), Ozma was heading back to Mombi's to reunite with Jack, hoping he would accept her now that she wasn't Tip.

I've discussed the diverging timelines between the original books and this romance series at length. I won't here because Tip and Jack's story as told in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) stands apart from the other original six in that Dorothy isn't part of the story and the entirety of the novel takes place in Oz.

Instead I'm more interested in a big plot hole Ozma fills from the original series. Namely why was Tip suddenly able to break free of his entrapment? Robinson and Duell suggest that Tip's curse is tied directly to the Silver Slippers. If they leave Oz, then the spell is broken. Now, there's more going on with the Slippers in this version but it's still an interesting idea that with a minimal bit of squinting would work for the original.

As this is clearly an alternate universe Oz as suggested by a fever dream Jack has, Jack here is a person — and not a "build your own boyfriend" as my husband thought he might be. The canon version makes two appearances: once in the dream and a second time due to black magic. Mostly, though, he's emotionally broken, pining for the boyfriend he believes is dead and then frustrated. He loves Ozma as much as ever but she is secretive, afraid that he won't accept her as she is now.

Fortunately Ozma like the previous two volumes doesn't believe too much in the slow burn. There's about half a book of angst and hurt feelings before reconciliation. The second half is sexy-times, derring-do, and nightmare fuel that rivals some of the imagery from Ozma of Oz (1907).

Chart showing the relative placements of the three novels on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Like the previous volumes (and all the original Oz books I've reviewed so far), Ozma sits on the road narrative spectrum. Ozma and Jack are an established couple (33) traveling together to kill Mombi and the Wizard. Their destination is the wildlands (99), a horribly corrupted place off the main map of Oz. Their route is offroad (66).

There's a fourth book, Tik-Tok which releases November 10, 2021.

Five stars

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Some Places More Than Others: 07/30/21

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson is a middle grade novel about Amara helping her father reconnect with his family after more than a decade. A school assignment about filling a suitcase with the things that are important to her family is the final thing that lets her go to New York with her father.

Amara lives in Beaverton, Oregon with her mother and father. It's the HQ city of Nike (something I learned reading this book). Amara loves where she lives but she's desperate to meet her grandfather, aunt, and cousins in person. She also wants to play tourist.

Amara's time in Harlem can best be described as a mixture of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003) and One Way or Another by Kara McDowell (2020). Her family isn't what she expected and her cousins bluntly call her out for her privileged life. She also finds native New Yorkers aren't really into playing tourist. This bit resonates with me in that I never want to play tourist in San Francisco even though I live nearby.

Ultimately though it is a time for Amara and her father to reconnect with their family. It's a time to mend hurt feelings and for Amara to learn about the history of her family and their neighborhood.

The journey to Harlem also sits on the road narrative spectrum. Amara and her father are a family of travelers (33). Their destination is the city (New York, and specifically Harlem) (00). Their route their is offroad (via airplane) (66). While there is talk of the past, the novel is firmly set in the here and now with the goal of a stronger, more united family moving forward which is why I've described the novel in terms of a family going to the city via an offroad means (330066).

Five stars

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Dough Boys: 07/29/21

Dough Boys by Paula Chase

Dough Boys by Paul Chase is a companion piece to So Done (2019). It's a novel told in the alternating points of view of best friends Deotae "Simp" Wright and Roland "Rollie" Matthews. They play basketball together. They also run drugs for their coach.

For Simp, the money means he helps his mom and his siblings. It means a more comfortable living. For Rollie he's not sure the drug side gig is what he wants from life. He's in GATE. He has a future that involves higher education and music. He's got a chance to audition if he can just keep his life together long enough.

While I struggled a bit with following the alternating stories of Tai (Metai) and Mila (Jamila) in So Done, I found Dough Boys a fast and compelling read. It helped to have the neighborhood set up in the previous book. But the boys' voices also resonated with me in ways that the girls' didn't.

In terms of themes and tone Dough Boys is a good follow-up read for two of Angie Thomas's novels: On the Come Up (2019) and The Concrete Rose (2020).

There's a third book, Turning Point (2020)

Five stars

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Miss Meteor: 07/28/21

Miss Meteor by Nidhi Chanani

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore is a YA novel that brings together my favorite parts of Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1998), Roswell (1999-2002), and You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Told in alternating chapters between Lita and Chicky, it's a celebration of family and friendship and town pride, against the backdrop of an annual beauty contest.

Lita and her adoptive mother came to Meteor in the rock that inspired the town's name. Now a teen, Lita's body is starting to revert back to stardust. She decides to spend what she believes is the last summer as a contestant in Miss Meteor.

Chicky is the youngest daughter of a family who runs the local diner. Her relationship to her family reminds me of Leo Logroño in A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano (2018). She and Lita used to be BFFs but had a falling out. This year's Miss Meteor contest is her chance to reconcile as she agrees to be Lita's manager.

Beyond this two Latinx girls and their families coming together to hopefully win the beauty pageant, the book is filled with a well written cast of interesting and diverse characters. There is good ethnic representation and good queer representation.

My favorite supporting character is Cole who is on a short list of well written transgender characters. His backstory isn't a major plot point. He's never deadnamed. We don't learn when he came out. All of that is said and done and everyone has pretty moved on by the time the novel opens. Yet there are moments of shared history among Cole, Lita and Chicky that give glimpses to those previous moments.

Five stars

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Jukebox: 07/27/21

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani is a middle grade graphic novel set in San Francisco and throughout the last hundred years. The book takes the reader through some key points in U.S. history with a playlist as its roadmap.

The first recognizable jukebox was developed in San Francisco 1890 by Louis Glass and William S. Arnold, using a modified Edison Class M phonograph. But the classic jukebox, the one that inspired this book, were designed originally by the Wurlitzer company (makers of fantastic theater organs too). The word jukebox was also coined in the 1940s.

What the jukeboxes played has changed over the years. First rolls of paper to drive instruments. Then cylinders. Then 78s. Then 45 singles. The jukeboxes talked about in Nidhi Chanani's were ones that played the singles.

The premise here, though, is that a jukebox repairman turned record store owner, built his own supersized jukebox capable of playing full albums. Since Shaheen and cousin Tannaz find and play full albums from different points in music history, as far back as the 1920s, one has to assume that the jukebox is adaptable enough to play different speeds and different thicknesses of records. In the real world, different types of records require different kinds of needles: sapphire, diamond, steel. Interestingly the fictional giant jukebox uses a magic diamond stylus.

Narrationally, knowing the history of the jukebox or recorded music isn't necessary. Shaheen and Tannaz learn what they need to know through trial and error as they search for Shaheen's missing father and the missing store owner. The story itself evolves organically at a satisfying pace.

Along with the mystery of the two missing men, Jukebox is a journey through American music and American history. There is also good representation with an ethnically diverse cast of characters, as well as a bi character and possibly an ace character.

The cousins' journey is set in the road narrative spectrum. As they are cousins, they are a family of travelers (33). Their destination is some unknown point in time, thus uhoria (CC). Their route is offroad, in that they are going through a jukebox and music generated portal each time.

See also: "Jukeboxes," Wikipedia (accessed July 23, 2021)

Five stars

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A Problematic Paradox: 07/26/21

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield is the first of the Nikola Kross books. Nikola goes to public school but she doesn't fit in. Her guidance counselor, whom she's nicknamed Ms. Hiccup, wants to change her so she'll fit in, rather than deal with school-wide bullying. All this is moot, though, when the Old Ones come for Nikola.

Children have a large capacity for suspension of disbelief. They're also often more willing than their adult counterparts to take things at face value. Good books take those two facts and run with them to create memorable and enjoyable stories.

For these types of stories to work, the main character has to do things. They have to do all the wacky things they claim to be able to do. They can't just have things thrust upon them and then react (or not).

Unfortunately Nikola is a reactionary character. Except for a brief description of her home — an abandoned building housing entire mobile homes that serve as rooms — the entire set up for Nikola's life and her family situation is informed. She tells us she's a genius. She tells us her father is a wealthy genius inventor. We don't, however, get to meet him or see him do anything that would demonstrate his intelligence or his knack at inventing things.

Frankly in the first fifty page or so, the villain, Tabbabitha has more of a show don't tell character than the protagonist. I was more interested in her motivations and backstory than I was in Nikola's.

Even after Nikola goes on a roadtrip to a secret school where she'll presumably be safe and able to find her father the book continues to describe the oddball school and its other residents without really giving Nikola a chance to interact with it.

More than one hundred pages into the book and the most Nikola manages to do besides talk sassy to Ms. Hiccup is to manipulate intelligent silly-putty.

Nikola's first adventure, such as it is, fits in the road narrative spectrum. She is a privileged traveler (rich, smart, and wanted by an Eldridge terror) (00). Her destination is a secret school disguised as a rural town (33). Her route there is the Blue Highway (driven by Ms. Hiccup) (33).

There's a second book: The Unspeakable Unknown (2019).

Two stars

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Among the Departed: 07/25/21

Among the Departed by Vicki Delany

Among the Departed by Vicki Delany is the fifth book in the Constable Molly Smith mystery series. During a search for a missing boy, Tocek's police dog, Norman, discovers a skeletal hand near a fifteen year old penny. Molly knowing the history of a local missing man makes the initial identification.

The remainder of the novel deals with the aftermath of Brian Novak's disappearance. His wife has become a shut in. His son is an artist specializing in violent depictions of nature. His daughter has changed her name and become a high end escort with a cocaine addiction.

Molly takes the lead in tracking down the last days of Novak's life. Previous novels in the series have an A mystery (the murder) and a B mystery (usually a petty theft or similar). This one is focused entirely on the Novak question, save for a brief scare where a teen is almost lured away to Vancouver. As the novel is so single minded the identity of the murderer and the reason for the murder are both rather blatant. Yet it takes Molly et al chapters and chapters to get to the same conclusion.

The sixth book is A Cold Sun (2013).

Four stars

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Camp: 07/24/21

Camp by Lev A.C. Rosen

Camp by Lev A.C. Rosen is set at Camp Outland, a summer camp for queer kids ages 12-18. Randy Kapplehoff has been coming for years and this summer he plans to win the heart of Hudson Aaronson-Lim. To do this, he's completely reimagined himself: cut his hair short, stopped wearing makeup and nail polish, and he absolutely won't participate in the annual musical.

The first couple books by Rosen I read I loved. They were fun. They had good representation and relatable characters. One was a middle grade urban fantasy, Woundabout (2015) and one was an adult mystery set in a post climate change world, Depth (2015).

But his two YA novels have completely and utterly missed the mark. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) (2018) I managed to finish about fifty pages before giving up. Camp, I fared better but many of my reservations from Jack of Hearts carry over to Camp.

Fundamentally the teens in Camp don't read like modern day teens but the inclusion of current technology implies that Camp is set in 2020 or thereabouts. Yet, the teens speak and act like Boomers in teen bodies.

Uniformly the boys that Randy hangs with at camp call each other by terms of endearment like sweetie or darling. Their language and mannerisms might as well have been cut and pasted from Paris is Burning (1990). That documentary is thirty years old and the last time I heard banter like that was about twenty years ago when I first started working in San Francisco. No queer teen or adult under the age of 50 I know talks like the teens in Camp.

Then there is the premise that campers hook up every summer for sex (save for the few token ace characters). Of course some teens have sex but a camp that caters to children wouldn't stay open if it were as welcoming to sexual acts as Camp Outland appears to be. The fact that there is a tree that everyone knows about, where couples carve their relationships and it's heavily implied that these are sexual relationships makes this a camp that should be shut down.

On top of the adults failing utterly to provide a safe place for their campers, there is the ham-fisted addressing of toxic masculinity. Randy's complete makeover is taken as a sign that he's fallen victim to T.M. That might be true but it's presented as an either or / black and white situation. A gay boy can only be effeminate to be taken seriously, to prove his self love. Excuse me?

Two stars

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Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey: 07/23/21

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly is the start of a new children's series. Marisol is a Filipina-American girl who gives names to everything. She also loves silent movies. But she's not as brave as she'd like. This is the story of how she concurs one of her fears.

Marisol's nemesis is Peppina, a perfect climbing tree named for the Mary Pickford film, Poor Little Peppina (1916). Every other kid she knows can climb Peppina. But she's firmly stuck on the ground.

The chapters are short, delightful glimpses into Marisol's life. They're the perfect length for new readers. This is the sort of book I would have loved in second and third grade. Frankly, I still love it even though I'm well out of the target audience.

Marisol's story is interspersed with little drawings that are utterly charming. There are portraits of her favorite silent movie stars, portraits of her various stuffed cats, and other bits and pieces of her lives.

I will definitely be reading the second book when it's available.

Five stars

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Flipped for Murder: 07/22/21

Flipped for Murder by Maddie Day

Flipped for Murder by Maddie Day is the start of the Country Store mystery series. I honestly thought I had already reviewed this volume and only realized I hadn't after I reviewed Grilled for Murder (2016).

Robbie Jordan has bought a country store which she plans to turn into a combination store and restaurant. She had been living in California but after three years, she's settling into South Lick.

Before she's even fully open, her new store is tied to the murder of the local mayor's obnoxious assistant. To clear her name and her restaurant's reputation, Robbie decides to investigate.

Robbie has a nice mixture of skills making her a protagonist who can save herself. That said, she also has a good support crew of friends and family (her aunt) to help her through this crisis.

Five stars

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Death by the Dozen: 07/21/21

Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay

Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay is the third in the Cupcake Bakery mystery series. Mel and Angie are participating in the Challenge to the Chef event. Mel is friends with a number of the judges from her time in culinary school. Then after the first round, her mentor Vic is found dead in a portable freezer.

Straightaway I knew who had murdered Vic. Figuring something out early can break the enjoyment of a mystery. Here, it didn't. McKinlay includes enough interesting details on planning recipes for a contest where there will be an unknown by required ingredient that I was fully engrossed with the overall story.

That Mel and Angie took longer to see the obvious is understandable. First there's of course the competition. There's the shock of the mentor's death. Angie meanwhile is concerned about her traveling boyfriend. Finally, the murder goes after Mel and Angie directly.

As I expected after the close of Buttercream Bump Off, the old man who helped with the previous investigation is now working part time for them. Now in book three, a new employee joins the force in the form of a Goth intern. Oz reminds me of Trixie from the Book Town mystery series by Lorna Barrett. I hope he is a recurring character.

The fourth book is Red Velvet Revenge (2012).

Five stars

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Killer Chardonnay: 07/20/21

Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing

Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing is the start of the Colorado Wine mystery series. On the opening day of Parker Valentine's Boulder, Colorado winery, a ruthless food critic ends up dying. Turns out he was poisoned and it looks like the poison was in the chardonnay he was tasting. So save her reputation, Parker decides to investigate on her own.

The Vino Valentine winery offers blends from locally sourced grapes. It's too small of an operation to have its own land and its own crop. Living near a wine producing area I find this set up strange.

Regardless of the winery's set up, the mystery its self is one of who had a reason to poison the critic and who had the opportunity. Like so many mysteries, the list of people who had a beef with him is nearly infinite. No, maybe not that long but it's enough people to keep things interesting.

That said, I was fairly certain who had done it early on. While the winery isn't a locked room, it's small enough to narrationally serve as one. There were only so many people on the much longer list who could have done the deed, assuming that it was a quick acting poison. The fun, then, was figuring out why the particular person did the deed.

The second book in the series is A Pairing to Die For which came out in January.

Four stars

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Darling: 07/19/21

Darling by K. Ancrum

2021 seems to be the year of the Peter Pan pastiche. First there was Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas. Now there is Darling by K. Ancrum. In October there will be Tink and Wendy by Kelly Ann Jacobson.

Darling is set in Chicago. The Darlings have moved into a fixer upper, one that has a broken window latch in Wendy's room. Interestingly, Wendy is once again an only child, though for different reasons than in Thomas's novel. The set up is otherwise identical to the source material with Peter first appearing in Wendy's bedroom.

While the opening chapters set up expectations for fantasy, Darling is grounded in reality. The roadmarks and landscape and characters of Neverland are mapped onto Chicago in a way that reminds of the The Wiz (1978) and its relationship to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). The way Barrie's novel is used as a skin for what's essentially a YA thriller gives Darling a Dark City (1998) feel.

The Peter Pan story seems to be inspiring dark interpretations. Both Thomas's and Ancrum's novels equate Peter with death. The first instance of Peter as a harbinger of death I can think of, though, is the Peter Pan arc in Once Upon a Time which began in the 2013 season and completed in the 2016 season.

Darling also happens to sit on the road narrative spectrum. Wendy and the Lost Boys (though they aren't called this in the novel) collectively count as marginalized travelers (66). They are all at the whim of Peter. Their journey through the Neverland landmarks is actually the city of Chicago (00). Their route is primarily along the subway and train lines (00). Summarized, Darling is the tale of marginalized travels going through the city via the railroad (660000).

Five stars

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What Alice Forgot: 07/18/21

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty opens with Alice dreaming about floating in water and noticing that her nails are painted a variety of different colors. She then smells lavender and hears people worrying about her. When she comes to, she's in a spin class she doesn't remember taking and it's ten years later than she thinks it should be (2008 instead of 1998).

In hospital Alice learns a few more startling things: she's not pregnant but she is the mother of three. Her blissful marriage is nearly over as she and her husband are going through a divorce. She's also gotten fit sometime in the last decade and her once funky house is now something out of an interior design magazine.

The main plot is Alice trying to figure out how she got to where she is while trying to live her current life with her out of date memories. Among those things she needs to figure out: who are her children and what are they like; what happened between her and her husband; how to be the active school volunteer she apparently is. This was the part of the book I loved.

There are two side plots presented as ephemera. One is Alice's sister's diary entries. These reveal her own struggle to start a family as she suffers through numerous miscarriages while doing IVF. The third are letters that honestly didn't make any sort of impression on me. The truth is, these two side narratives can be easily skimmed or outright skipped as the same information is related through Alice's narrative.

What Alice Forgot is the third amnesia novel I've read. Thematically it sits between the other two. In overall tone it's most like What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr (2019). But in terms of plot, it's most similar to it's contemporary, Remember Me? by Sophia Kinsella.

Four stars

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Much Ado About Muffin: 07/17/21

Much Ado About Muffin by Victoria Hamilton

Much Ado About Muffin by Victoria Hamilton is the fourth Merry Muffin mystery. Merry Wynter has been in Spain with her in-laws for an extended stay. She returns home to find that Pish has taken in an opera singer, Roma, with a nasty attitude.

Barely home, Merry discovers the body of the postmaster. Evidence on hand suggests that Roma Toscano carried out her latest threat. Before Merry can even begin to investigate she finds herself in danger. Is it Roma or someone else?

Minnie Urqhart's death brings to surface stories from her past. Her history is similar thematically to that of Nessa Renchrik in [LINK]Death Gone A-Rye[/LINK] by Winnie Archer (2021). What differs is that Minnie despite her corruption was subtler in her actions — though her intent was just as self centered and nasty.

The fifth book in the series is Muffin to Fear (2017)

Five stars

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Tune It Out: 07/16/21

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner is about a girl with an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder being sent to live with her aunt and uncle when her mother can no longer care for her. There's a lot covered in this book: family estrangement, teenage pregnancy, neural divergence, and poverty.

The book opens somewhere along Lake Tahoe on the California side, although honestly the story could have opened more realistically anywhere else. Northern California was clearly described by someone unfamiliar with the state. Early on Jamie focuses on a cardinal while she sings to a crowd at a coffee shop but we don't have cardinals in our state, save for a few escaped pets in Southern California.

To get the plot rolling, Lou crashes the family truck while driving in snow. Apparently already at twelve she had learned how to drive but had never driven in snow. It's stated that it's September when the snow falls. Snow typically doesn't start falling until November and in these climate change years, it's often even later than that.

The frustrating thing about this stumbling opening is that it's not needed. The novel would have been stronger if it had happened at the airport with Lou and her assigned case worker arriving Nashville. All of the relevant stuff happens there and the area is better, more accurately described (according to reviewers who know the area).

Lou's journey also fits into the road narrative spectrum, though that serves mostly to get her into a new location for her adventure to begin. Lou as a child being sent to her aunt and uncles by order of the state makes her a marginalized traveler (66). Her journey is to a place she will eventually come to see as home (66). Her route is offroad, in this case being via an airplane (66).

Four stars

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Stargazer: 07/15/21

Stargazer by Anne Hillerman

Stargazer by Anne Hillerman is the twenty-fourth book in the Navajo mysteries. The series is now fifty-one years old, and in its eighth year of being written by the original author's daughter.

A radio astronomer has moved to New Mexico to reconnect with his estranged wife who is Dinéh and moved home from Hawaii years ago. He wants to reconcile. She wants a divorce. There's a gun in the car. The next morning a young boy finds the man dead in his car, the gun sitting on his lap. Soon after, the wife is confessing to Jim Chee.

As it turns off Bernadette Mañuelito knows the woman who has confessed. They had gone to college together. She doesn't believe her murder confession. Her tenacity helps to open up the investigation.

The novel features the VLA in Socorro, New Mexico. It's a place I last visited in The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla (2017). It's also featured in Contact by Carl Sagan (1985).

In previous mysteries in this series, when there's an A plot and a B plot the two end up being interconnected and more closely related than Leaphorn, Chee, or Mañuelito first think. Stargazer has two mysteries, one with a gratuitously long dead baby, that has little to do with the astronomer's death. The plot with Bee and the baby serves to put Mañuelito in the right place to be involved with the murder investigation and later as a foil, preventing her complete attention to the murder investigation.

Since the two mysteries aren't connected, I found the one with Bee a distraction which is a shame. Bee is a fictional stand in for the numerous indigenous women around the world who are abused, sex-trafficked, missing, or murdered every year.

Four stars

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Grilled for Murder: 07/14/21

Grilled for Murder by Maddie Day

Grilled for Murder by Maddie Day is the second of the Country Store mysteries. The morning after a welcome home party at her restaurant, Robbie finds the guest of honor dead near the pickle jar, and one of her antiques is missing.

As it's in her restaurant, suspicion turns first to Robbie and then to an employee who had been insulted by the victim the night before. Robbie denies that it's either of them and points to the obvious break in (a large pane of glass) as proof. Numerous people tell her it could be a ruse to move suspicion away from anyone who had a key to the building.

I'm not sure I've seen the broken window as red herring done in a cozy mystery I've read before. I've seen it on TV mysteries. Usually it's followed up with the clue that the glass is on the outside of the building, meaning the person who broke the window was already inside. That's not the case this time but it did get me thinking.

About a third of the way into the book Robbie finds something in her restaurant she doesn't recognize and then she has an apparently innocuous encounter with a character. Because my mind was focused on the question of the broken glass I recognized the significance of the clue and and the character immediately. Everything then clicked into place for me.

In times when I know who done it and why I usually skip to the last fifty pages to read the ending. It's a way to check my notes — sort of like looking in the Mr. Body envelope early in a game of Clue. This time I was right and there wasn't anything else about the ending that made me want to go back to read the middle hundred or so pages.

The third book in the series is When the Grits Hit the Fan (2017).

Three stars

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Body on the Bayou: 07/13/21

Body on the Bayou by Allison Brook

Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron is the second book in the Cajun Country mystery series. Maggie Crozat is being run ragged by her maid of honor duties. Vanessa Fleer, now pregnant, is engaged to Police Chief Rufus Durand. In the run up to the wedding some of the most cantankerous guests end up murdered.

The locations of both murders are huge giveaways to the observant reader. Shortly after the discovery of the first body I already had the murderer's identity pegged. What kept me reading was the why.

With the mystery being centered on a wedding, Body on the Bayou brings together event planning, art gallery management, and the creative process (as Maggie and her boyfriend's son are both artists). I like listening to how Maggie works when she's concentrating on her art.

The one detail I'm torn on is Xander Durand, her boyfriend's autistic son. I do appreciate the connection Maggie and he have over their art. On the other hand he hasn't yet come into his own as a character. He's about fifty percent individual character and fifty percent inspiration porn.

The third book is A Cajun Christmas Killing (2017).

Four stars

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Read and Gone: 07/12/21

Read and Gone by Allison Brook

Read and Gone by Allison Brook is the second of the Haunted Library mystery series. Seven million dollars in stolen (and now missing) gems brings Carrie's larcenous father home. He claims his partner is the gem expert invited to speak at the library. When that expert ends up murdered, his claim appears to be true. So where are the gems and who committed the murder?

A lot of narrative time is spent on Carrie working through her feelings in regards to her father. She's not pleased that he's a thief, even though he's done his time. She has a lot farther to go to accept it like Mia Carina has in the Catering Hall mystery series.

Part of Carrie's hang up is her boyfriend's role in the gem mystery. He has been sent home not to see her, but to investigate and interview her father. With the trust issues she already has with her father, she's now having the same trouble with Dylan. Is his love and friendship genuine or just a means to an end?

The mystery itself is in two parts: where are the gems and who killed Benton Parr? Furthermore, is the murder of Parr directly related to the missing gems?

While the ghost of the former librarian is still around, she plays less of a role this time. Instead, the cat, Smokey Joe, takes the lead role of co-investigator and muse.

In regards to the gems, I figured out where they were well before Cassie did. In regards to the murder, I was well behind her in the thought process. Instead I was too drawn in by Cassie and her father's health. Both have health scares that punctuate the narration and drive some of the narrative's direction.

The third book is Buried in the Stacks (2019).

Five stars

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The Box in the Woods: 07/11/21

The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson is a standalone spin-off mystery from the Truly Devious (2018) trilogy. Stevie Bell and cohorts from Ellingham Academy have been hired to solve a cold case at Camp Wonder Falls in rural Barlow Corners.

This time the murders have happened in more recent history — 1978. For the intended reader, it's a time period in their parents' and grandparents' lifetimes. For me it's the year I started kindergarten. It's also a time period from the author's life time as she and I are the same age.

As the flashbacks are only forty-four years back, compared to about eighty years from the Ellingham Academy ones, they blend more naturally with the present day story. It could also be that Johnson found better ways of making the two plots flow together through the practice of writing the previous three.

The other big difference here is that the mystery is self contained. It flows with a similar narrative punctuation as a typical cozy. Stevie as the amateur sleuth begins asking questions that have long since been buried by time and those old enough to remember the crime begin to get nervous. Some just don't want to revisit old painful memories. Some don't want the old hurt feelings back to threaten repaired friendships. And of course at least one person doesn't want to get caught. All this ill will results (as it always does) in a present day murder.

The cold case murder beyond the unique gruesomeness of it reminds me most of Death by French Roast by Alex Erickson (2020). I mean this in terms of time past. Also both feature a crime that happened when some of the characters were teenagers and is being solved when they are middle aged to elderly adults.

Like the Ellingham set books, The Box in the Woods is set in the road narrative spectrum. Stevie and her cohorts are now known for their accomplishments at the school and thus are privileged travelers (00) to the camp. While the camp is their physical destination, the actual goal is solving another cold case, making the final destination uhoria (CC). Their route to the camp, though, is the railroad (00). Thus it's a journey of a privileged traveler to uhoria via the railroad (00CC00).

Five stars

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A High-End Finish: 07/10/21

A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle

A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle is the start of the Fixer-Upper mystery series. Shannon Hammer is a contractor and carpenter specializing in keeping the Victorian homes of Lighthouse Cove, California, ship shape. After a disastrous blind date she finds herself a person of interest in the murder of a notorious womanizer.

When there's a fictional town in a series, especially one set near where I live, I can't help but wonder where the town would fit relative to its real world counterparts. Lighthouse Cove being in Northern California, and implied north of San Francisco, having beach access, and its proximity to Oregon, there are four towns that seem to have been the inspiration. First is Point Reyes for the light house but it's not really a town. Second is Arcata which has the historic homes and access to the beach but doesn't have a lighthouse. Next is nearby but landlocked Ferndale. It has the highest number of Victorian buildings but none of the other features. Finally there's Crescent City which has the lighthouse and beach access but not the historic buildings.

Regardless of where Lighthouse Cove is, it has a strong sense of self contained place. Kate Carlisle builds a convincing town, one that influences the characters and the plot. Shannon Hammer's specialized skills ring true and give her an excuse to have access to crime scenes and potential murder weapons.

I recognized who the killer was when they were first introduced but it took me a while to figure out their motive. A quick reveal of the criminal isn't necessarily a bad thing for me. Here I found the rest of story compelling. There's a lot of adventure and danger. There's also some good smoldering chemistry between Shannon and the man who buys the lighthouse.

The second book is This Old Homicide (2015).

Four stars

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The Ghost and Mrs. McClure: 07/09/21

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly is the start of the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. Alice Kimberly is a different nom de plume for the couple who also writes as Cleo Coyle. To confuse matters more, the most recent book in the series was released with Coyle as the author.

Penelope Thornton-McClure has moved back home with her son to manage the family bookshop. They're hosting their first book signing. It's a mystery author who made a career out of writing a noir series based on a real life PI who was murdered at this very book shop.

To make things more interesting, the ghost of the dead PI, Jack, haunts the bookshop. Only Penelope can see or hear him. So she of course will end up being his gal Friday. Their first case together is the murder of the mystery author.

The book suffers from the same pitfalls of the early Coffee House mysteries, namely clichéd and often misogynistic descriptions and characterizations. Jack's entire character sheet is being a manly man from the 1950s. Penelope, though as modern woman (well a 2004 modern woman) is still overly concerned by the feminine vs masculine bogus binary.

But the worst part of the book was the audio performance. For reasons that escape me, two narrators were hired, one for Jack and one for Penelope. Penelope's chapters far outnumber Jack's and the woman reading her chapters does an excellent voice for Jack. The man hired to read Jack's chapter absolutely sucks at doing Penelope's voice. Her dialogue read by him is cringeworthy.

The second book is The Ghost and Dead Deb (2005).

Three stars

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One Way or Another: 07/08/21

Deadly Ever After by Kara McDowell

One Way or Another by Kara McDowell is a YA romance that explores how a relationship starts with two different approaches thanks to a divergent timeline. Paige Collins has been in love with Fitz for ages but she has ended up as his wingman. She hasn't mentioned her feelings for him because she has undiagnosed anxiety.

Now after his latest girlfriend has dumped him, she has the chance to spend Christmas with him and his family. But she also has the chance to go to New York City with her mother for Christmas. To help her make the big decision, she's installed a Magic 8 Ball app. In one narrative thread, it tells her to go with Fitz to the Arizona mountains. In the other she goes to New York with her mother.

Parallel, alternating chapters are hit or miss for me. For One Way or Another it's a hit. McDowell weaves thematic threads from one "Fate" to the other. While one universe doesn't affect the other, an event that happens in one will be mentioned in the other. This gives us a chance to see how Paige reacts to things she can have no direct influence on.

One big question of the book is how young is too young to fall in love and get engaged? This is a side plot beyond Paige's anxiety over her feelings for Fitz. The other is how trustworthy is Fitz. Is he a womanizer or is he just unlucky in love?

Paige's parallel universe travels are also marked on the road narrative spectrum. For the Arizona Christmas trip, the travelers are the couple (Paige and Fitz) (33) and for the New York trip, the family (Paige and her mother) (33). Because of the what-if nature of these fates, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route through uhoria is the labyrinth (99) in that the journey in both cases is transformative for Paige, her mother, and Fitz.

Five stars

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Deadly Ever After: 07/07/21

Deadly Ever After by Eva Gates

Deadly Ever After by Eva Gates is the eighth book in the Lighthouse Library mystery series. Lucy and Connor have announced their engagement. What should have been an intimate party with their local friends and relatives ends up being crashed by Lucy's Boston ex-boyfriend and his mother. Then to make matters worse there's another murder.

This book is fairly evenly divided into three interwoven threads. The first is the wedding planning while her would-be mother-in-law tries to hook her back up with her ex. This thread introduces more backstory for Lucy, her parents, and her ex and his family.

The second thread involves Lucy, Fluffy, and Charles. Fluffy is a yappy dog who is kicked out of the hotel where his owner is staying. Lucy ends up stuck with the dog. Charlie has a natural cat reaction to this news but Fluffy and he reach a truce.

Finally there is the murder. I have to admit I knew who had done it — though not why — when the murderer was first introduced. That said, the why was still enough of a draw to keep me reading. I also enjoyed the glimpses into Lucy's Boston life.

Hopefully there will be a ninth book next spring. Who will get murdered before the wedding?

Four stars

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A Crafty Killing: 07/06/21

A Crafty Killing by Lorraine Bartlett

Since I'm current with the Booktown Mystery series by Lorna Barrett, I've decided to go back and read through another of author's series. A Crafty Killing by Lorraine Bartlett (aka Lorna Barrett) is the start of the Victoria Square mystery series.

Katie Bonner ends up as the de facto manager of Artisans Alley after its owner, Ezra, is murdered inside the store. She already has a job and isn't sure she wants to devote the time and energy to saving the company. Unfortunately her late husband put their savings into Ezra's venture, so she's stuck if she wants to recover her investment.

Like Murder is Binding, this initial volume introduces a woman in the process of making a huge change to her life. While Tricia was escaping New York after a divorce to run her own book shop, Katie is a widow set now to inherit a business she was only tangentially part of because of her husband's investment. Like Tricia, though, once faced with the responsibility, she is fully committed to the business and the people.

The mystery itself is couched in the business of running Artisans Alley. It has a familiar twisting of plot threads to how the Constable Molly Smith mysteries have A and B plots that end up being intertwined. As I was hyper focused on the details of Artisans Alley I caught a major clue and its significance well before Katie did. It made for a suspenseful but satisfying read.

I actually found myself pulled in much faster to Katie's story because of the familiar setting. I grew up around antiques malls and other consignment shops. The sad state Artisans Alley is in at the start of the mystery along with the surrounding businesses' take on the shop bring to mind a couple different places my father did business with.

Five stars

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Buttercream Bump Off: 07/05/21

Buttercream Bump Off by Jenn McKinlay

Buttercream Bump Off by Jenn McKinlay is the second of the Cupcake Bakery mystery series. Mel's mother is accused of killing her date, Baxter Malloy. Mel and Angie decide to investigate but Angie gets sidelined by Malloy's bad boy rock star son.

Baxter Malloy ends up having more enemies than I can count. They're mostly associated with a particular country club, giving Mel a way in through her catering. The way she investigates is similar to Clare Cosi but with the awkward eagerness of Krissy Hancock.

My favorite part, though, is Marty, an elderly man who wants to win the raffle the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery is holding. As he's constantly hanging out with Mel, he ends up helping both at the store and during her amateur sleuthing. He reminds me of an ornery Mr. Everett.

The third book is Death by the Dozen (2011).

Five stars

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Witches and Wedding Cake: 07/04/21

Witches and Wedding Cake by Bailey Cates

Witches and Wedding Cake by Bailey Cates is the ninth book in the Magical Bakery mystery series. It's less than a week until Katie and Declan's wedding. She should be figuring out the last details and spending time with her future family. Instead, she's in the middle of another murder — that of her future sister-in-law's ex-husband.

I don't seek out wedding themed books since I've attended more weddings than I can count as wedding coordinator's assistant. This one evolved naturally over the course of the series and isn't promising a happily ever after. Katie and Declan are too practical to expect a magical ending (even though she's a witch).

The mystery itself kept me guessing. I'm usually pretty good at figuring out who committed the crime and why. I had the why this time but not the who. The revelation took me by surprise.

The one side plot that I'm just not that interested in is the disappearance of Declan's leprechaun spirit. He's always been annoying and he serves too often as a narrative crutch, even more so than Katie's nona. That said, his continued absence provides the hook for a tenth book.

Book ten is Spirits and Sourdough and is scheduled for release on July 27th.

Four stars

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Wicked Things: 07/03/21

Wicked Things by John Allison

Wicked Things by John Allison and Max Sarin (Illustrations) collects the first six issues of the comic. Charlotte "Lottie" Grote has been a sleuth her entire childhood. Her best friend Claire has nominated her for the Teen Detective of the Year award in her last year to qualify. That means an exciting trip to London. What could possibly go wrong?

I really wasn't expecting a cozy mystery but that's exactly what happens. In fact it's really like three cozies in one. All of this mayhem begins when Lottie is accused of attempted murder of Japan's greatest adult sleuth. Until he's out of his coma, Lottie is in a legal purgatory. That gives the comic the excuse to hook her up with London Metro Police.

In true cozy fashion, Lottie is given a job with access to the police while still being under suspicion. Despite her tenuous situation, she stay's upbeat through the power of her biting sarcasm and her ability to spot a mystery with the barest of clues.

There's a to be continued hook at the end of volume one. Looking at the author's website, Lottie is featuring in a new comic, Circus Windows and there are eventual plans to revisit the attempted murder of Kendo Miyamoto.

Five stars

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Purple Hibiscus: 07/02/21

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria in the weeks leading up to and just following a military coup. Fifteen year old Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother are living under their own oppressive regime, that of their abusive, super-devote Catholic father.

The danger of the coup and the gentle persuasiveness of a paternal aunt gives the siblings a chance to see life outside of the strict confines of their father's interpretation of Catholic teachings. It's also a chance to reconnect with their Igbo culture and beliefs.

The novel is relatively short, only three hundred pages. But it's a dense and tense one. There is the danger inside the family. There is the danger of the coup in the form of a crumbling infrastructure and in the military checkpoints along the roads, and the arrests of various protestors.

Kambili's journey both physical and intellectual can be mapped on the road narrative spectrum as an outlier. While she does travel with her brother they rarely interact and the majority of her narrative is an internal, highly personal one. Her trip to the aunt's home is one that ends up highlighting how privileged (00) she is relative to her aunt, grandfather, and cousins.

Kambili's destination is home (66). It's the literal travel between her original home and her aunt's home. But it's also the expansion of her understanding of what home could be. It's learning that a safe loving environment can exist outside of the narrowly built world her father has constructed for his wife and children.

The route home is the interstate (00). Literally it's the road between the homes. But it's also the straight and narrow path that Kambili has been forced to live under to keep her father happy. It's a path she has internalized and struggles to break free of while living with her aunt and cousins.

Summarized, Purple Hibiscus is about a privileged traveler finding a new sense of home via the interstate (006600).

Five stars

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June 2021 Sources: 07/02/21

Previous month's book sources

June was the fifteenth full month of shelter in place for COVID-19 precautions. No word yet on when Ian's parents will be able to visit.

June continued my revised way of scheduling reviews. It seems to working for me except that I'm down to under a month of surplus reviews. Even with the new schedule I'm struggling to keep up.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In June I read 16 TBR books, down from May's 18 TBR. I read zero books released last month. Four books were for research. There were no review copies. None were from the library. The lack of new and library books improved from score from -4.0 to -4.6 That said, it was my best month ever in twelve years of tracking.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

July 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 low score, maybe around -4.30.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for June improved from -2.81 to -2.96.

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Hollow Kingdom: 07/01/21

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton is a multi-POV post apocalyptic novel. What makes it different is it's told from the POV of the surviving pets. It's set in and around Seattle.

The main narrator is a pet crow, Shit Turd, or S.T. for short. He notices something is off when his human's eye falls out. He gets more suspicious when said human doesn't take the dog out or bother to feed him.

I honestly don't know what I was thinking when I decided to purchase a copy. From the very description it has two things in it I don't normally like. The first is zombie stories. I can think of exactly one series I genuinely liked: Undead by Kirsty McKay (2011) and its sequel, Unfed (2012). The other is animal POV narrated novels aimed at adults.

Midway through the first chapter I already was regretting my decision, though not initially or the two items listed above. S.T. and his ex-human liked junk food. They lived on it. S.T. talks about favorite foods constantly and each time it comes with an ®. I get that these are real world snacks and they're all registered but come the fuck on. Each of those marks makes this train wreck of a novel read like a late night infomercial.

The second annoyance is S.T.'s stream of consciousness. I get that he's a bird and probably doesn't know about paragraphs and simple sentences, but why do we have to tortured with yet another book of word vomit. It's difficult to read. See for example: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929) and The Penelope chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).

One star

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June 2021 Summary: 07/01/21

Reading report

June continued the COVID-19 shelter in place, bringing us to our sixteenth month of shelter in place. Vaccinations continue in California. The four of us are now fully vaccinated.

I read fewer books in June, 20, down from 27 in the previous month. Of my June read books, eleven were diverse. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Of those read, one was queer. Of the reviewed books, three were.

I have no books remaining from 2020 to review, and 26 books of the 156 books read this year.

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