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August 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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Punching the Air: 08/31/21

Punching the Air by Ibi Zobo

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi is a novel in verse inspired by Yusef Salaam's prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit. His story is included in the afterword. Also, some of the poetry is actually Yusef's but the book doesn't label which pieces are his and which are Ibi Zoboi's.

Amal Shahid is sent to a juvenile detention center after he's in a fight with some white boys who were looking for trouble. He uses poetry and art to keep his sanity in a situation that is out of his control and set up to make sure he fails.

It's a relatively quick but emotional read. Amal tries his best to keep his dignity and his patience but it's difficult when the adults in his life — outside of his immediate family — are constantly baiting him. His story highlights the endless micro-aggressions Black people face.

Five stars

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Swordheart: 08/30/21

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher is a fantasy romance set in the world of the White Rat. Halla is a widow now trapped in her own home by her in-laws who are trying to force her to remarry so they can control her inheritance. In the middle of the chaos, she grabs an old sword and releases an enchanted bodyguard, Sarkis. Together they set off to find help in the form of a lawyer.

This book has three distinct parts: the journey out, the journey back, and the final confrontation. The journey out serves to introduce Halla and Sarkis and their very different backgrounds. Halla is a middle aged woman who has a set of life experiences and skills that don't overlap at all with swordwielding. Sarkis had a life as a warrior centuries earlier before being enchanted into the sword. Now he's sat for a very long time in deed as a wall decoration and is depressed by how much things have change. And yet, he's duty bound to serve Halla.

The trip back involves a Priest of the White Rat, a gnole, an ox, and lots and lots of theories as to how being an enchanted sword works. It's also an exploration into the worlds' religions, politics, and changing landscape.

Some of my favorite scenes come during the return trip. The way Zale and Halla unintentionally gang up against Sarkis to understand how being enchanted in a sword is both fascinating and hilarious.

The journey back also puts this novel onto the road narrative spectrum. The dynamic of the party and those they meet on the road is that of the scarecrow and minotaur (99) and is echoed more intimately in the developing relationship between Halla (who wishes to protect Sarkis as much as she needs his protection) and Sarkis (who often sees himself as a cursed monster).

The destination is home (66). While I don't usually count return trips as road narrative spectrum stories, this one counts because the status of home changes over the course of the journey. Yes, at it's most basic, the home is the same one that Halla and Sarkis leave, but it's one she grows to love while she's away, and one she is ultimately willing to fight and sacrifice for.

The route they take is the cornfield (FF), taken first metaphorically through the many roadside ditches Sarkis pulls Halla in on the way out. Then it becomes more literal when a short cut through a field leads to the Vagrant Hills, a landscape that lures people in and imprisons them. Passing through them is part of the process of convincing Halla that the fight is worth the journey.

Summarized Swordheart is about a scarecrow and minotaur traveling home via the cornfield (9966FF).

Four stars

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Chocolat: 08/29/21

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Chocolat by Joanne Harris is set in a small village in southern France. Vianne Rocher and her daughter have moved into the old bakery and have turned it into a chocolate shop. Vianne's liberal views immediately put her at odds with the local priest.

The timeline runs from just before Valentine's Day until Easter. During that time she builds her business and plans a chocolate themed Easter / spring festival. While chocolates are pretty common with celebrating Easter, in this village it just isn't done. The priest declares war when he realizes she doesn't want to assimilate.

While the novel has a distinct and solid sense of place, it isn't placed well in time. I struggled through the first two thirds of the novel trying to understand when the novel was taking place. For much of the novel it read like a historic novel. At different times I could imagine it at the end of the nineteenth century, the 1920s, the 1950s and the 1970s. Only near the end did it become apparent that the setting was contemporary — meaning end of the twentieth century.

The second novel is The Girl with No Shadow (2007).

Four stars

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Wild Ones: 08/28/21

Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad

The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad is a YA urban fantasy about women saving women and in the process, saving the world. It begins with Paheli, a girl betrayed by her mother who wants nothing more than to study. Given the chance, she runs, and collides with a boy with stars in his eyes, just before a door opens and takes her to the Between.

Paheli is one of the first Wild Ones — women who travel between cities via doors that open in the Between. The Between is like a conduit to the Other Side, but also works as its own network of paths. It's also the only way the Wild Ones can travel the world as they are tied to the cities. Besides the Wild Ones who were once human and are now immortal as long as they keep the stars in their palms, there are Not-Humans who live in the cities and trade in magic.

But it's mostly the Wild Ones who drive this beautiful, poetic novel. It's how they parley their pain into strength that gives The Wild Ones a Wonder Egg Priority vibe. Around the world there are different stories of crying women as vengeful spirits; the Wild Ones are in good company.

Together, though, they have to save the world's magic supply. Just as there are greedy human men, so are there among the magical ones. One in particular is going after the boy with the stars in his eyes. Their desire to help him and take down an abuser is part of what gives this novel the Wonder Egg Priority feel. It's also what puts the book on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Paheli and the other women have vowed to protect and help girls and women. They've also agreed to help the boy and they are going against monsters (literal and figurative); thus the travelers are in a scarecrow/minotaur dichotomy (99). Their destination is the city to confront the man trying to take all the world's magic (00). Their route is the labyrinth (99) because their journey is a transformative one; a physical one, an emotional one, and a spiritual one.

Five stars

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Death Al Dente: 08/27/21

Death Al Dente by Leslie Budewitz

Death Al Dente by Leslie Budewitz is the start of the Food Lovers' Village mystery series. Erin Murphy has returned home to Jewel Bay, Montana to help run the Merc. She's also the spearhead of the Festa di Pasta. On the first night a woman is murdered and Erin's mother is the prime suspect.

I usually don't let a mystery series' location distract me but I just couldn't help myself with this one. Montana is a landlocked state with very few lakes — so few I can count them on one hand. A place with Bay in the name implies a large body of water. Erin describes in one bucolic scene how she's lucky enough to live near the "largest lake west of the Mississippi."

If you're looking at freshwater lakes, yes, Montana does have that honor but this fictional lake. But this fictional lake is apparently even larger than the real one. Fictional lake is given the patriotic name, Eagle Lake, and it's given features of the much smaller neighboring Swan Lake. My point here is, there aren't enough lakes, nor enough landscape in Montana to believable fit in a fictional massive lake. Why not just fit a fictional bay onto Flathead Lake or even Swan Lake and call it a day?

As the murder was near the Merc and during a food festival, one would expect that the store and the festival, or more generally, cooking and eating Italian food, would be the focus of the non-sleuthing pieces of the novel. The best cozies parlay the particular skills of the main character into a unique advantage for solving the mystery. Here, though, the plot comes to numerous screeching halts for Erin to expound on how much she loves living in her particular corner of Montana.

The second book in the series is Crime Rib (2014).

Three stars

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Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl: 08/26/21

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is the conclusion to the Mighty Jack series and an extra story in the Zita the Spacegirl series. Jack, Lilly, and Zita must team up to save the Earth from an invasion from the alternate universes.

By this point in the stories all three leads have grown to be superheroes of one sort or another. Jack is a fantasy hero, Lilly is a king, and Zita is a space hero. With their track records the stakes for this final confrontation must be high.

As it's also a crossover it seems that every character from both series must make an appearance. I'm more familiar with Jack and Lilly's story and their world's cast of characters. Zita's books I read longer ago; the first one released a decade ago! Thus this crossover would work better after a binge read of both series. In my case, I did a lot of shrugging when a character made a dramatic appearance.

Chart showing how the Mighty Jack and Zita Spacegirl books progress on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Both series take paths on the road narrative spectrum. The Zita books I read before I began the RNS project in earnest. Therefore I haven't placed my reviews of her graphic novels into the road narrative reviews. I am instead including a chart here to show how the two series progress to the point of the crossover.

Jack, Lilly, and Zita are privileged travelers (00). Their goal is to get home and save home (66). Their route is the maze (CC) in that they are in actual danger and there are traps and a changeable landscape. Summarized, the crossover is about three privileged travelers saving home via the maze (0066CC).

Four stars

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This Coven Won't Break: 08/25/21

This Coven Won't Break by Isabel Sterling

This Coven Won't Break by Isabel Sterling is the sequel to These Witches Don't Burn. Hannah Walsh is still reeling from being attacked by Hunters; her father's murder, and losing her house to fire. Now the Hunters are stepping up their attacks and the Council wants Hannah's help to put an end to them.

There's a satisfactory wrapping up of the threads left open by the novella and the novel. But it's a ride full of angst, missteps, and death.

From about the second chapter until the last fifty pages, The Coven Won't Break is nonstop action and tension. There's very little time to breath or process. It's an attempt to keep this novel a nail biter all the way to the end, but without those quiet moments the action becomes boring.

Three stars

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Common Bonds: 08/24/21

Common Bonds by Claudie Arseneault

Common Bonds edited by Claudie Arseneault is a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories populated with asexual and aromantic characters. There are also trans characters and same sex relationships.

The settings too are some of the most imaginative I've seen. Fantasy tropes are reworked into a modern, technological setting, where Princes match with Princesses who need rescuing via the Cinder app (and the rescuer/rescuee isn't gendered or romantic). There are werewolves who plan camping trips (including making s'mores) once a month.

The book opens with the best pun, "The Aromatic Lovers." Here is a world where gender is expressed through scents. An agender/aromantic character finds a perfume maker who can make a scent that doesn't convey a gender. He also makes a balm to mask everyone else's scent.

There are also poems interspersed with the stories.

Five stars

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Signspotting III: Lost and Loster in Translation: 08/22/21

Signspotting III: Lost and Loster in Translation by Doug Lansky

Signspotting III: Lost and Loster in Translation by Doug Lansky is the third in the series of Signspotting books. While going through my book diary, now a three volume set of handwritten lists of things I've read over the course of my life, I came across when I'd read the first book. Curious, I decided to see if there were others and managed to find this volume via Paperbackswap.

The Signspotting humor falls into a few categories. There's the sign taken out of context. Those are the most fun. Among those I even spotted one near me.

The next two types are less funny. They rely on either errors in English from non-native speakers, or 'funny' sounding names or words used along side otherwise perfectly rendered English. The funny is usually something that is a word or name from a character based language that's been transliterated into something that looks vaguely like a swear word or something else rude. Basically these last two categories are racist at best and xenophobic at their worst.

Two stars

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Cat About Town: 08/22/21

Cat About Town by Cate Conte

Cat About Town by Cate Conte and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) is the start of the start of the Cat Café mystery series. Set on fictional Daybreak Island, near Cape Cod, it's Maddie James's return home for her grandmother's funeral. The next day she finds a body during the set up of the weekend food stroll.

Maddie is also befriended by a jolly ginger tom she originally calls orange guy. She later comes up with a better name for him, but I rather liked when he was just orange guy.

Maddie is staying with her grandfather to make sure he's okay. She learns over time that he's in debt and a developer was threatening to buy the house out from under him, or worse, have the land re-zoned.

The mystery was fairly easy to figure out but Maddie has a distinct voice to get me invested early on. I wanted to know what was happening with her grandfather and the rest of her family. I wanted to know how she and her cat were doing and if she could help with the stray cat population.

The second book is Purrder She Wrote (2018).

Five stars

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Gideon Falls, Volume 5: Wicked Worlds: 08/21/21

Gideon Falls, Volume 5: Wicked Worlds by Jeff Lemire

Gideon Falls, Volume 5: Wicked Worlds by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Illustrator) is the penultimate volume. This is the volume that begins the transition to the end state. It's the point where the situation is at its most dire.

At the end of The Pentoculus the Black Barn was destroyed. What should have been an ending is actually a beginning. It's the point where the darkness is released and the worlds begin to collapse. All those Gideon Falls are pancaking into one chaotic realm of darkness and destruction.

With the traveller's status downgraded in the previous book to privileged, they are ironically more vulnerable to the effects of the darkness. In this volume the team begins to lose some of their own. This is a volume (or originally five issues) of running to stay in place.

When there is a multi-issue show down with the big bad, whomever they may be, I often find myself bored by the climax. It becomes such an overwhelming amount of action and confrontation that the entirety of the situation loses meaning.

While I'm supposed to be worried for the heroes and scared by the darkness and the bugs, I'm not. My reaction is more: oh lookie, more bugs. Oh lookie, he's lost. Oh well. Too bad.

All of this mayhem, though, is another progression on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Placement of the five Gideon Falls books on the Road Narrative Spectrum

The remaining heroes are still privileged (00). They are still the ones who are destined to fight the final battle. Their destination is home (66). Home here is a fixed, stable, Gideon Falls. Their route is the maze (CC) which is represented through the ever changing landscape as the dimensions crash into each other.

The sixth book is The End and released in April.

Four stars

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Two Wicked Desserts: 08/20/21

Two Wicked Desserts by Lynn Cahoon

Two Wicked Desserts by Lynn Cahoon is the second full length mystery in the Kitchen Witch mystery series. It comes after the novella, Murder 101 (2021).

The man arrested at the end of One Poison Pie (2021) has been released early and is back in Magic Falls to harass her some more. He's still convinced that she will sell the old school to him.

Closer to home, though, Mia's apartment is full. She has her friend and employee, Christine, her grandmother, and now Dorian's daughter, Cindy, staying with her. To make matters worse, a man is murdered in her yard where she's planning an herb garden. Did houseguest Cindy have something to do with his death or was it someone from town?

With a celebrity house guest, I was reminded once again of the Merry Muffin mystery series, this time Much Ado About Muffin (2016). Mia's grandmother serves in the role of the Pish of this series. So far, though, she comes across as less impetuous.

After reading the three novellas in this series in quick succession, I found the pacing of this full length mystery to be sluggish in parts. It seemed that the authorities backslid in their competence. There's also the on-going magical and paranormal side threads that are there to set up future books and do some world building, but they are sometimes in direct conflict with the more mundane aspects of the murder investigation.

The next book in the series is another novella. Have a Holly, Haunted Christmas releases October 26, 2021.

Four stars

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How to Lie with Maps: 08/19/21

How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier

How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier is in its third edition as of 2018. It's a nonfiction primer on how to make good choices when designing a map and how to spot the limitations of a map. The book covers both traditional methods of cartography as well as computer aided approaches.

The book starts off with key concepts: scale and projection. For global maps the big question is which piece of the planet gets the distorted. For smaller maps, it's what information gets left off to aid readability.

For traditionally drawn maps designed for grayscale printing, this book is solid. Where it falls short is in its discussion of color and computer design. There is mention of abuses of color as well as a barebones introduction to color theory. There's also some advice on avoiding certain computer pitfalls.

But among the illustrated examples, there are no color prints. As color is such a tricky design element in maps (or anything else that needs to be read and understood by a huge range of people) there should be color examples among the numerous illustrations. In the third edition there are none.

Four stars

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The Tea Dragon Society: 08/18/21

The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O'Neill

The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O'Neill is the start of a three book fantasy series somewhere between graphic novel and picture book about people who raise dragons for their tea. More broadly it's about found family and learning to live and thrive within your own limitations.

Greta is a blacksmith apprentice who isn't sure blacksmithing is her calling. Rather, learning how to make weapons in a time of peace seems strange to her. On her way to town she finds a lost tea dragon who leads her to a cottage and the two remaining members of a the Tea Dragon Society.

The Tea Dragon Society is a quiet book and a quick read. But it's one that should be savored. There's a lot packed into this short, beautifully illustrated volume.

For tea fans, the back of book has information about various tea types and their corresponding dragons.

Volume one is situated on the road narrative spectrum. Greta is a scarecrow in that she is a protective character (99). Her journey is to uhoria (CC) as she both contemplates her future, helps Minette manage her memories, and learns about Hesekiel and Erik's past. Her route is the Blue Highway (33), or in this case the paved road from her home, the village, and the Tea Dragon Society. Summarized the theme is about a scarecrow going to uhoria via the Blue Highway (99CC33).

The second book is The Tea Dragon Festival (2019).

Five stars

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A Deadly Edition: 08/17/21

A Deadly Edition by Victoria Gilbert

A Deadly Edition by Victoria Gilbert is the fifth book in the Blue Ridge Library mystery series. Amy Webber and Richard Muir are planning their wedding. There's a hitch though when a dubious art dealer is murdered after he crashes a party celebrating the upcoming nuptials.

The murder hinges on a rare book of illuminated manuscripts done in the late 1800s. The plot reminded me of another mystery with a rare book of dubious provenance: Books of a Feather (2016).

I've read a bunch of cozies this year where the main character gets married. In most of them, I've found the marriage piece of it a distraction from the mystery. In this particular volume, though, the wedding planning was the most interesting piece. Early on when a certain character is introduced I knew — just knew — that they were the murderer. Figuring out the killer's identity isn't always a bad thing, but in this case it made the slow plotting of the investigation all the more obvious.

The sixth book is Renewed for Murder. It releases on December 7th.

Three stars

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A Pairing to Die for: 08/16/21

A Pairing to Die for by Kate Lansing

A Pairing to Die for by Kate Lansing is the second in the Colorado Wine mystery series. Parker Valentine's Boulder based winery is thriving. She's also in a serious relationship with Reid Wallace, the owner and chef at Spoons. It's so serious that she's meeting his family at the restaurant. Unfortunately the night ends badly with the sous chef murdered!

With the setting being a high end restaurant, I'm reminded of the earlier books in the Coffeehouse mysteries by Cleo Coyle where Joy is working her way up through the restaurant industry. In particular, I'm reminded of French Pressed (2008).

Besides the murder investigation, there's also the matter of Reid's horrible family. Here their bad attitude stems from classism. Here I'm reminded of two other mysteries: Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron (2018) and Among the Departed by Vicki Delany (2012).

Parker Valentine continues to explain her life and situation through an extended wine metaphor. These allusions are hit or miss. They might work better with someone who is more of a wine aficionado than I am.

The third book is Mulled to Death which is scheduled for release on October 5th.

Five stars

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Lips Unsealed: 08/15/21

Lips Unsealed by Belinda Carlisle

Lips Unsealed by Belinda Carlisle is a memoir of her life and career. It's a frank account of her partying, drinking, and drug use. It doesn't glorify past excesses but it's also not an apology nor an atonement.

Although I grew up listening to Carlisle's music (both as the Go-Gos and her solo albums), I wasn't aware of her life outside of those songs. I've never been a fan of celebrities of any sort. Even now with the internet I rarely know who is who in a band or who is the current hot star.

So I went into this book knowing next to zero about Belinda Carlisle. I learned quite a bit, although much of it is stuff a more attentive fan would already know.

The book includes photos, some professionally shot and some family photos.

My one quibble is with the writing style. The sentences are often long and complex and paced like something out of an academic paper. Sometimes these long sentences don't flow well when coming back to back.

Three stars

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Sleight of Paw: 08/14/21

Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly

Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly is the second of the Magical Cats mystery series. Agatha Shepherd, a former teacher, is killed in a hit and run. Librarian Kathleen Paulson finds her and decides she has to be the one to solve her murder.

Initially it looks like a case of driving while blackout drunk but Kath stubbornly wants to believe that something else happened. Her investigation is a slow burn, done over the course of many conversations and lots of coffee.

Ultimately the mystery reveals itself to be a complex shell game. Instead of three shells and misdirection, there are five trucks. Frankly I'm surprised the commonality of certain vehicles hasn't come up in more mysteries I've read.

The series is set in Mayville Heights, Minnesota which gives wiggle room to appeal to American and Canadian mystery lovers, much in the same way that so many others are set in "west New York" aka Ontario. Here the joint appeal is hockey, with Kath having experience playing field hockey.

The third book is Copycat Killing (2012).

Five stars

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Smash It!: 08/13/21

Smash It! by Francina Simone

Smash It! by Francina Simone is a YA contemporary retelling of Othello (1603). Olivia "Liv" James is a wallflower who wants to expand her horizons. She has a fuck it list that has three rules:

  1. Be bold — do the thing that scares me
  2. Learn to take a compliment
  3. Stand out instead of back

One of the driving forces of Smash It! is the high school production of Othello. Like the middle grade novel, Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (2017), the lives of the students participating in the play begin to mimic those of their roles.

I liked best the parts centered on the play. They're focused and funny. But there's a whole side plot where Liv is obsessed with the sex lives of her cast mates, especially a bi character who is very open with her sexual history. Frankly, this character's sexual exploits was one of the problematic aspects. It's not that she's sexually active — it's the sheer amount of experience she apparently has. Either she's lying or she was sexually abused as a child. More realistically, the author has compressed adult memories onto too young of a character in a similar fashion to Camp by Lev A.C. Rosen (2020).

Besides the teens having the sexual experience and knowledge of adults, there is also some racial 'humor' at Palestinians and Pacific Islanders. There are reviews on Goodreads that go into this problem in greater detail than I will here.

Two stars

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I Am Not Starfire: 08/12/21

I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamaki

I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamaki and Yoshi Yoshitani (Illustrator) is told from the point of view of Mandy, the Goth daughter of Starfire. Her birthday is coming up and college applications will be due soon. Mandy has decided she's had enough of both and just wants the world to stop fucking with her.

There are two big themes at work in this book. The first is the divide that can develop between an immigrant parent and their children. Parents who flee oppressive regimes or situations often don't share their culture with their children, hoping to save their children from the same heartache or to avoid stirring up painful memories. Well meaning intentions can backfire, and do here for Starfire and Mandy.

The second is how awkward it can be growing up the child of a celebrity (or superhero in Mandy's case). There's the unwanted popularity, prying questions, and fans expecting the child to follow in the parents' footsteps. Mandy, who so far hasn't come into any powers of her own, feels that her mother's love hinges on the hope that someday she will get her powers. It doesn't but neither Starfire nor Mandy are very good at articulating their feelings, leaving hurt feelings for both.

Among early reviewers, there's been an obvious, hate-driven campaign to drown out positive reviews with negative ones. Much of it hinges on the fact that Mandy's father is never named (but the artwork makes it obvious, plus previous stories have already established this fact). They also don't like that Mandy isn't drawn thin and sexy. Instead, she's a short, fat, Goth. Mandy being different from her parents is part of the point. Even beautiful and famous parents don't automatically get clones of themselves.

Five stars

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State of the Onion: 08/11/21

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy is the start of the White House Chef mystery series. Olivia Paras is in the running to be the next head chef at the White House. She's going head to head with a reality TV chef. That should be enough to keep her busy, but there's also an assassin after the president.

The series has an exciting opening. A man is being chased by Secret Service across the White House grounds. Meanwhile Olivia is returning from an errand to pick up a gift for the retiring head chef. When the intruder spots her she has to go on the defensive.

The White House, though, is a known place. It has a history. It is constantly in the news — constantly in the public eye. Sure, presidents cycle through regularly which gives the temptation to make up a fictional one. But the building itself is still too much of a known quantity.

It's a difficult setting to stage a mystery, especially a series of them. Sure, here the theme is food and the setting is the kitchen and places where food is served in the building. But the temptation is still there to involve the First Family and international affairs.

At about a third of the way into this novel the mystery struck me as essentially being "Honey for the Prince," an Avengers episode from the 1966 series. The rivalry between Olivia and the reality TV chef brings to mind The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle (2019) and Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay (2010).

The second book in the series is Hail to the Chef (2008).

Two stars

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A Separate Peace: 08/10/21

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace by John Knowles is a book I've read twice for school: once in eighth grade and again in tenth. It's one that has stuck with me — though not as perfectly as I thought. Last year when I read The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019) I was reminded of the novel again and decided it was time for a read as an adult.

Now that I've read it in my forties, I can see why it was taught in school. The imagery is blatant and repetitive. The foreshadowing is practically shouted. There are plenty of examples throughout the novel for students learning how to write literary analysis.

Told as an extended flashback by an adult returning to his old boarding school, it's about the friendship between Gene and Phineas. Gene is an introvert and academic. Phineas is a charismatic and athletic rule breaker. At first glance, Gene is to Elwood as Phineas is to Turner, except that Whitehead takes the narrative formula of Knowles books and turns it on its head.

Gene's account of his brief friendship with Phineas is set during their senior year. In the background is WWII and all the boys know they will be drafted upon graduation if they don't enlist. The middle part of the book even goes into the disastrous effect the war has on a student who enlists early and ends up AWOL.

Mostly though the book is about privileged boys living one last privileged year. Gene, in particular, though, learns this first hand. His journey of character growth, as an adult, can be mapped on the road narrative spectrum.

Gene remains a privileged traveler (00) even as adult. His journey back to school and through his memories of that last year is a trip to uhoria (CC). His route is the cornfield (FF) as represented by the tree at the river that features so heavily in the novel. Thus Gene's journey is that of a privileged traveler through uhoria via the cornfield (00CCFF).

Four stars

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Well Played: 08/09/21

Well Played by Jen DeLuca

Well Played by Jen DeLuca is the sequel to Well Met (2019). This novel is from the point of view of Stacey, the tavern wench who trained Emily. Her romance is an homage to Cyrano de Bererac, something she's aware of, and something she struggles to accept.

With Emily now engaged to Simon, Stacey is feeling left out from love. Romance begins with a drunken email to Dex of the Drunken Kilts. She knows he's a player but she pours her heart out anyway. She receives a reply that sparks a twelvemonth long-distance relationship via email and text.

Of course it eventually comes out that she hasn't fallen in love with Dex. Can Stacey reconcile her feelings for these two men?

One of the running jokes in Well Played is that most people these days wouldn't get the Cyrano reference. There's also situational humor — a romantic night with a squeaky bed above the parents' garage.

The short of it is: it was a fun and quick read, perfect for a lazy afternoon.

The third novel is Well Matched which comes out October 19, 2021.

Five stars

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Murder 101: 08/08/21

Murder 101 by Lynn Cahoon

Murder 101 by Lynn Cahoon is the second novella in the Kitchen Witch mysteries. It comes between One Poison Pie (2020) and recently released Two Wicked Desserts (2021).

Mia Malone's catering business is growing nicely. Her remodeling of the school she's bought is done on the first floor, giving her the chance to host her first on site event. That turns out to be a multiple day reunion of the last class before the school closed.

Mia's mother is the one organizing the event which is causing tension between Mia and her grandmother. There's a history between mothers and daughters. Mia learns about her mother's history with witchcraft and the moment when she walked away from it.

But this is also a mystery series. Like Chili

Cauldron Curse, the novella cuts short the time between discovery of the body and the solving of the mystery. While I liked the solution being left to competent detectives in the first book, this time the solution is more magical. Although magic is a key component to this series, I found the ending too abrupt, so much so that I had to re-read the ending to see what I'd missed.

The next novella is Have a Holly, Haunted Christmas and is scheduled for release on October 26.

Four stars

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Robogenesis: 08/07/21

Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson is the sequel to Robopocalypse (2012). Like the first book, this one is told from multiple points of view. Some are human, some are AI, and some are transhuman (cyborg).

The book opens with the death and transformation of a character, into an AI driven zombie thing with the memories of the host. It's a violent, visceral opening and one that pulled me out of the novel to the point that I struggled to focus on the remaining book.

The narrative ends up being a war of ideals between two different post-human evolutions. In the middle are the few survivors, though from how things have been described civilization has been wiped out and there are almost no mention of women, children, infants, or the elderly. There are like one of each of those as well as a whole bunch of robots and a few soldiers holding on.

The tug of war between post society ideals reminded me of the on-going Ascender series by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Frankly I'm not a fan of the plot there either.

Three stars

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The Ghost and the Dead Deb: 08/06/21

The Ghost and the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly

The Ghost and the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly (aka Cleo Coyle) is the second book in the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. Penelope Thornton-McClure is pressing on with having author events at the store despite the first one ending in murder.

Her current author event is with a woman who wrote a true crime book about a recent murder. While there is a heckler, the event is a success. Penelope thinks everything is fine until the author goes missing.Because the boyfriend of Penelope's employee is missing too, last seen with the author, she decides to investigate.

Of course she has Jack, her resident ghost and former private eye, to help. This time he can leave the building because she's found a nickel he can haunt. Jack has two chapters narrated from his point of view — down from the previous book. Ideally, none of the chapters should be from his point of view. Or for the audiobooks, there should only one narrator. Let Caroline Shaffer read Jack's chapters too.

The mystery has two parts: the cold case and the present day one. The cold case one was fairly easy to solve. The modern day one is trickier.

The third book is The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library (2006).

Four stars

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The Walled Flower: 08/05/21

The Walled Flower by Lorraine Bartlett

The Walled Flower by Lorraine Bartlett is the second of the Victoria Square mystery series. Kate is heartbroken to learn her beloved Webster mansion has been bought and is in the process of being converted into the B&B she so desperately wants to open. Things are further complicated when a skeleton is found inside a wall and one of Kate's Artisan Alley sellers recognizes the body!

Kate agrees to help track down the killer. But she's also forced to contend with an unhappy vendor accusing another vendor of theft and sabotage. Is someone taking her dolls or is she doing it herself to frame the other?

On the personal front, Kate needs somewhere new to live. Can she find a new apartment or house in time? Why won't her pizza making boyfriend let her live above the store?

The cold case mystery is the easier of the two to solve. What keeps the book interesting is the amount of detail put into the troubles Kate has in running Artisan Alley. Keeping conflicting personalities happy and making the business profitable are a nonstop, exhausting endeavor.

The third book is One Hot Murder (2013).

Five stars

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Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel: 08/04/21

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm and Savanna Ganucheau is an adaptation of Holm's 2010 middle grade novel of the same title. It's a companion piece to Full of Beans (2016).

Turtle is sent to Key West when her mother takes on a new job as a live in maid. Her employer doesn't allow children, so Turtle is sent south to family she didn't know she had. Beans and his brothers are her cousins. Although Turtle's story was written first, it happens a year after Full of Beans.

As a graphic novel, Turtle's story is trimmed down to the most salient and emotional bits. She's angry at the people in her life. She's learned to trust no one, including her mother. Kids back home set her cat's tail on fire. The adults in her life are just as untrustworthy, even the man who is wooing her mother.

The novel has three acts: Turtles arrival in Key West, her eventual friendship with her cousins and their friends, and her acceptance of Key West as her new home. The acts are sewn together through episodic scenarios that build up to an exciting climax.

Turtle's journey is also settled on the road narrative spectrum. As she is traveling to family and ultimately with family, she is part of a family (33) of travelers. Her destination is home (66), first as a temporary place to be while her mother can't care for her, and then as something more emotionally permanent. Her route there is the Blue Highway (33), meaning the road she's driven down to Key West, and later the roads she learns as she follows her cousins and their friends around. Thus, save for the dramatic climax, Turtle's story is about a family traveling home via the Blue Highway (336633).

Five stars

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Toured to Death: 08/03/21

Toured to Death by Hy Conrad

Toured to Death (originally 'Rally Round the Corpse) by Hy Conrad is the first of the Amy's Travel mystery trilogy. The blurb describes a mother and daughter team of travel agents who end up with a mystery on their hands. Reality, though, is very different from this compact and cozy sounding description.

The mystery has three distinct and barely connected parts. There's a prolog where a murder game designer is killed. Then there's the mystery rally from Monte Carlo to Rome which ends at the literal halfway point. The rally also ends with another murder.

By the end of the rally I was already doubting that the book would be able to wrap things up in some sort of sensible fashion. Because so far there had been zero attempt at investigating the mystery, be it, Otto's death, the original murder that Otto's tour was inspired by, and finally the murder of one of the tour guests.

My feeling of dread was confirmed by a single page with these two words: PART TWO. Who the actual fuck decided to repackage this book as a cozy? No cozy would have need for a PART TWO. If anything, this novel is a thriller or maybe a very weird horror.

After the disconcerting PART TWO, the novel opens up on Long Island. Some amount of time has passed and Amy hasn't decided what to do about the disastrous end to the mystery tour. That is until she suddenly decides she should. Maybe she knows that PART TWO has started?

There's a whole bunch of nonsense in the second half that takes place in New York and New Jersey. It's an attempt to shoehorn together the cold case, Otto's murder, and the one that happened in Rome. For reasons I can't fathom, the person I had decided was most likely to be a murderer (before the third murder) ends up stalking Amy and confronting her. If the murderer had just left Amy alone and gone back to their life they would have gotten away with not one but two murders!

Two stars

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Well Met: 08/02/21

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met by Jen DeLuca is the start of a romance series by the same name. Emily has relocated to Willow Creek, Maryland to help her sister and her niece. Her sister is recovering from a terrible car crash.

The annual ren-faire run by the high school is coming up and Emily is roped into volunteering as a beer wench to guarantee that her niece can participate. It's at the faire that Emily meets broody but handsome Simon. For the faire they have roles to play: she as Emma and he as a pirate. Their characters are wed on the first day of the faire but is there something brewing for real?

Well Met has a good balance of the different narrative threads: home and family obligations, work at the faire, and the romance with Simon. As a newcomer to Willow Creek, Emily's understanding of the faire and Simon's devotion to it. Her lack of history helps drive the emotional and sexual tension.

The second book in the series Well Played (2020).

Five stars

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July 2021 Sources: 08/02/21

Previous month's book sources

July ended shelter in place for my husband, for now. With the delta varient surging this might change. Ian parents are scheduled to visit this weekend. They are in the States, the first time since March 2020.

July continued my revised way of scheduling reviews. I am at about thirty books of surplus reviews and I'm definitely struggling to keep up.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In July I read 19 TBR books, up from June's 19 TBR. I read one book released last month. Ten books were for research. None were review books or library books. The one new book raised my score from -4.6 to -3.97. It was my second best July in twelve years of tracking, with last July being my best.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

August will move more and more towards reflecting what I'm currently reading. That means my score will probably raise somewhat, maybe to a -3.5.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for July improved from -2.86 to -2.95.

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Tea & Treachery: 08/01/21

Tea & Treachery by Vicki Delany

Tea & Treachery by Vicki Delany is the start of the Tea by the Sea mystery series. Lily Roberts runs a traditional English tea shop next door to her grandmother's bed and breakfast. The setting is Cape Cod, the second recent mystery to be set there.

Next door is a dilapidated home that a developer is trying to get rezoned so it can be sold, razed, and replaced with with a sprawling hotel and golf course. While the overflow business would be good for Lily and Rose, neither wants to give up their isolation on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

To complicate things and to launch this series as a cozy mystery, the land developer is found dead at the base of Rose's cliffside stairs. Suspicion falls on Rose, so Lily with the help of a newly arrived detective, set to work on investigating the murder.

As this novel is set in a tea shop and one of the main characters is an English woman, there's a lot of time and energy set on proper tea making, the different kinds of tea services, and how to mix and match china. Fans of Victoria Hamilton's Vintage Kitchen mystery series will find the Tea by the Sea books familiar and welcoming territory.

The relationship between Rose and Lily reminds me of Blanche and Clare in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse mysteries. Rose has a similar tenacity and convictions to how things should be done. Rose, though, is more demanding than her New York counterpart, but her relationship with her grand-daughter feels genuine and relatable.

For the mystery, I found myself guessing until the end. I had some details figured out but not enough to say with any confidence what happened or who had done it. For two thirds of the book I had the completely wrong person fingered as the murderer.

The second book is Murder in a Teapot and it released on July 27th. I am waiting to listen to the audio, which releases August 24th.

Five stars

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July 2021 Summary: 08/01/21

Reading report

July began a cautious reopening of things, although with the delta varient I'm not sure how long this reopening will continue. Vaccination rates are higher here than in some places in the States. Ian has started going back to work in person with masking required. Our youngest went on an eight day summer cruise with the marine scouts and fellow sea scouts. Everyone on the ships were vaccinated.

I read more books in July, 30, up from 20 in the previous month. Of my July read books, eighteen were diverse. On the reviews front, twenty qualified. Of those read, ten were queer. Of the reviewed books, seven were.

I have 30 books of the 186 books read this year to review. I am basically running in place now between books read and reviews posted.

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