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Every Body Looking: 09/30/21
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh is a novel in verse about a college freshman trying to deal with trauma while learning how to live on her own. Ada is the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Black American mother. Her parents are divorced and she has mostly lived with her father but now she's off to college.
The poems are gathered together in chapters by points in Ada's life. There's her graduation, and flashbacks to first, second, and sixth grades. These are counterpointed against her present day time in college as she's trying to be the adult and the student everyone expects her to be.
In the flashbacks she reveals the trauma of her childhood — sexual abuse by a cousin, her parents' separation and her mother's addiction. In the present, she has classes she doesn't feel comfortable in, a boyfriend who is clearly abusing her, and an escape through dance.
Ada's story is poignant. It's emotional and raw. But the pacing puts eighty percent of the novel's focus on the trauma and only a smidgen of time on her exploration of dance. I wish there was more time spent with the dance lessons and with falling in love with the girl who introduces her to it.
The Tea Dragon Festival: 09/27/21
The Tea Dragon Festival by Kay O'Neill is the second book in the Tea Dragon graphic novel series. This one is a prequel that shows where the adult couple from the first book came from. Like the first book, though, they are secondary characters.
The main story focuses on the friendship between Rinn and a dragon named Aedhan. Rinn discovers Aedhan in some ancient ruins. Aedhan was expecting to attend the local annual festival only to find that eighty years have passed.
Through their friendship, Rinn helps Aedhan work through the trauma of having lost eight decades to a sleeping curse. They also help recognize the source of a lingering mystery in the nearby forest.
Like the first volume, Aedhan and Rinn's story can be charted on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Rinn who wants to protect her village is a metaphorical scarecrow. Aedhan, who was sent to protect the village has become a metaphorical minotaur over time due to the effects of the curse. Thus together they are the classic scarecrow and minotaur duo (99). As most of the story is about Aedhan's lost years, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route is the cornfield, or in this case, the cursed garden at the ruins (FF).
The third book is The Tea Dragon Tapestry (2021)
1, 2, 3 Salish Sea: a Pacific Northwest Counting Book: 09/25/21
1, 2, 3 Salish Sea: a Pacific Northwest Counting Book by Nikki McClure is set in and around the Salish Sea. It's a body of water that straddles the US and Canadian border at Washington and British Columbia. It includes the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound as well as smaller water ways. While the author lives in Washington, I know the area from the Canadian side.
This is a counting book that uses woodcut prints of wildlife from the area to illustrate the different amounts. Each number has a different species rendered artistically but with fine attention to detail.
While the book starts with the basics: one to ten, it also includes larger scales of numbers. These are illustrated with things like flocks of birds and dozens of microscopic sea creatures.
The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library: 09/24/21
The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library by Alice Kimberly is the third in the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. Penelope Thornton-McClure and her aunt have been summoned by her aunt's old boyfriend to his crumbling family estate. He is a book collector and he has a complete collection of Poes to sell on commission. Just after giving the women the books, they find him dead at the bottom of stairs he said he no longer could climb.
A collection of rare, old books, brings first to mind Classified as Murder by Miranda James (2011). Instead, though, it's thematically closer to The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl (2006) and The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1993).
Of course the present day mystery is also thematically tied to one of Jack Shepard's old cases.
Fortunately these flashbacks, told through dreams narrated primarily by Jack are taking less time each new volume. Book three had a fairly good balance between the new and old, meaning there was less time spent on listening to Jack's 1950's toxic masculinity fueled banter.
The fourth book is The Ghost and the Femme Fatale (2008).
Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs: 09/23/21
Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs by Russell Ginns is the second book in the middle grade adventure series. Along with her map umbrella, Samantha now has a special pair of purple tinted glasses. They help her spot hidden clues near the entrances to things marked on the umbrella. She hopes that together she can find Uncle Paul.
Samantha and her brother Nipper have a message from Uncle Paul: watch out for the SUN. Is it a clue to finding him or a warning of new troubles on the horizon?
In Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans, Samantha and Nipper became a well oiled team over the coarse of the book. Each had skills they brought to the puzzle solving table. In this volume, the siblings seem to backtrack both in terms of individual skills and in their ability to cooperate.
Because the two siblings aren't cooperating as well as they had been they miss a couple obvious clues. Missing these clues results in them heading off in the wrong direction, meaning there could have been an entirely different novel here.
There's also a weird interlude where the siblings spend time with their eldest sister. She's now living in New York and is in the process of putting on a very strange sounding play. New York is complex enough of a place, I expected the novel to focus the adventures in the Big Apple. That's not what happens because that adventure is foiled by the siblings' lack of communication.
Although the adventures were more misadventures, the siblings' travels do sit on the Road Narrative Spectrum, just as the first book does.
As the ultimate goal is set in New York City and involves the siblings and their parents, the traveler this time is the family (33). The destination is once again the city (00). The route is once again the the railroad (or the super secret highway of transportation the kids have been exploring).
The third book is Samantha Spinner and the Boy in the Ball (2020).
March: Book Three: 09/22/21
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell is the conclusion of the graphic novel trilogy that covers John Lewis's participation in the Civil Rights movement. This book is the most violent and most heart-wrenching of the three.
The book opens with a bombing in Birmingham and the death of three girls. From the dates listed those who know their history will know what's coming. For readers first learning this history, they will be in for a rough ride.
Where the first two were released midway through President Obama's second term, this volume was released at the end. There is still a sense of hope that things will continue on the progressive path with a Clinton win. Reading this five years later the violence and protests depicted take on new meaning, new urgency.
A Spell for Trouble: 09/21/21
A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison and Emily Durante (Narrator) is the start of the Enchanted Bay mystery series. Aleksandra Daniels has returned to Bellamy Bay, North Carolina after two decades of being away. Her mother tragically drowned and her father chose to leave the town. He then forbid her from returning.
But now she's between jobs and frankly burned out. Her aunt Lidia and her cousins offer her something to do and somewhere to stay while she figures out her next stage in the life.
Lidia and her cousins run a herbal apothecary that for me brings to mind the store in The Good Witch. The difference here is that Alex and her family are witches descended from mermaids. When a man is poisoned and Lidia is framed, Alex has to confront her family's history, relearn her powers, and help solve the mystery before it's too late.
The mystery's big question seems to be who has magic and who doesn't? Magic and its use to wield local power is a major motivation. The problem with this early book is that Alex is so naive in how magic works and how to control it that anyone can be a suspect and equally anyone can appear innocent.
On the whole I like how magic works in this book. It's not spells. It's not a grimoire. It's purely intent and being genetically inclined to have magic. I hope later mysteries in this series keep the relatively simple approach to how magic works.
The only hiccup in this first volume is the amount of time spent on setting up the world. Much time is wasted by how stubbornly Alex refuses to believe what she's told.
The second book is A Hex for Danger (2021).
Purrder She Wrote: 09/19/21
Purrder She Wrote by Cate Conte is the second volume in the Cat Café mystery series. Maddie James has turned some of her grandfather's home into a cat café with the money given to her by a yet to be named donor. An argument between one of her volunteers and a wealthy socialite at the café leads to a murder investigation when the socialite is found dead with a cat toy stuffed down her throat.
I honestly had forgotten the cat café hook at the end of Cat About Town. I know, it's there in the series name too, but I don't really pay attention to series names except when writing reviews. So it took me a chapter or so to adjust to what felt like a premise change. In this regard, Purrder She Wrote feels to me like the start of a series, rather than the second book.
The mystery is kept interesting with enough people who have motives to provide clues and red herrings. The pacing is good, a little slow at first but it picks up and comes to a satisfying ending. An observant reader will be able to find the clues among the herrings.
The third novel is The Tell Tail Heart (2019).
A Deadly Deletion: 09/16/21
A Deadly Deletion by Lorna Barrett and Cassandra Campbell (Narrator) is the fifteenth book in the Booktown mystery series. This one follows immediately on the heels of Handbook for Homicide (2020). Fifteen minutes after Marshall's proposal, Grant Baker makes his own. And then out of nowhere a truck mows down Marshall, killing him.
Marshall's death is just the first of a series of bad events in Tricia's life. Her store is vandalized. Her family's home is torched. And every step Tricia takes to investigate Marshall's death or the other incidents, leads to literal dead ends and bodies.
Along the way, though, Tricia learns the truth about Marshall. He's not who he said he was. All her hesitance to marry him end up justified. She also gets to meet other exes in his life. The question though, is who among them killed Marshall?
The solution to this mystery is built on a modern day cynicism. It goes contrary to the vast majority mysteries I've read. But it's in keeping with other departures from the more standard tropes this series has taken.
Buried in the Stacks: 09/15/21
Buried in the Stacks by Allison Brook is the third volume in the Haunted Library mystery series. It's winter and homeless are spending the cold days in the library. They're causing tension among the other regulars. There's a new homeless community center in the works, but it's probably a scam, given who is behind the project. In the meantime, though, Carrie Singleton is reeling from the unexpected death of her library rival, Dorothy.
This volume ties up a lot of loose threads from the previous two. Even before the mystery behind Haven House or Dorothy's murder is solved, it's clear that solving both will also address questions left unanswered from both Death Overdue (2017) and Read and Gone (2018).
Had I read volume three out of sequence, I would have found the mystery harder to solve. The previous volumes made recognizing clues, motives, and possible suspects much easier. Frankly, if this series had been set up at a trilogy, Buried in the Stacks would have made a satisfying ending.
The fourth volume is Checked Out for Murder (2020).
Devil in a Blue Dress: 09/14/21
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley is the start of the Easy Rawlings mystery series. Easy Rawlings has a $100 a month mortgage and just lost his job. He loves that house and reluctantly takes on a gig to find a missing woman named Daphne. He knows she'll lead him into trouble but he's got a mortgage.
The setting is Los Angeles in 1948. It's, not, however, Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles save for the few times Easy has business in white spaces. Even then, his experiences are still punctuated with micro and macro aggressions from the white folks he's forced to interact with.
Like so many mysteries where the main character is brought on board to do something or find something (or someone) when no one else can, Easy's progress is lined with bodies. People die because he's poking his nose into places everyone else has had the sense to avoid. While the setting and characters are completely different, the basic narrative flow of Devil in a Blue Dress reminds me of another mystery I recently finished, Coached to Death by Victoria Laurie.
The second book in the series is A Red Death (1991).
This Is Venice: 09/13/21
This Is Venice by Miroslav Sasek is the seventh book in the This Is series. As with all the previous books, I read a reprint that included footnotes on the changes to the city since the book was first published.
Venice the metropolitan city includes more than the islands known for their canals and gondolas. But like This is New York (1960), the book focuses only on the most famous bit of the city.
One thing new I learned was how the buildings and plazas are kept afloat. It's done with thousands upon thousands of wood pilings. It's essentially a manmade mangrove.
The illustrations are some of Sasek's best that I've seen after now reading eight books in the series. They are highly detailed but still carry his distinct blocky style. If these were modern books I would say they looked like vector art.
The next book is This is San Francisco (1962)
Full Disclosure: 09/12/21
In Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting at a new high school. She wants to fall in love and have a normal teenage experience but she's HIV positive. While she's careful and her levels are low enough to not be detectable she knows disclosing her status will cause problems at school. At the same time, she knows she will have to disclose the truth to any future boyfriends or girlfriends.
On the representation front, Full Disclosure has a lot going for it. Simone is Black and queer and adopted. She's being raised by a pair of married men. Her friend group at school is also diverse.
For YA readers — the intended audience — there's a lot of information that they might not otherwise have access to. There's information on safe sex, masturbation, living with HIV, pregnancy with HIV, gynecological exams. It's mostly provided through dialogue.
But all this info-dumping gets in the way of the rest of the plot. There isn't a smooth blending of useful information and plot.
Aside from the HIV handbook aspect, the novel is about Simone directing RENT at her high school, falling in love with a boy, and having someone sending her threatening notes that promise to reveal her HIV status. This basic three part structure of creative project, falling in love, and the potential of blackmail brings to mind Felix Ever After (2020).
Red Velvet Revenge: 09/11/21
Red Velvet Revenge by Jenn McKinlay is the fourth book in the Cupcake Bakery mystery series. Mel and Angie have plans to close up shop for the summer since the heat keeps away the customers. Their plans change when the store is suddenly gifted a four wheeled money pit in the form of an old ice cream truck.
To recoop the money sunk into repairing and rebuilding the ice cream truck into a cupcake truck, Mel, Angie and their crew decide to head up into the mountains to the Juniper Pass rodeo. While there they end up in a head to head sales contest with a pair of BBQ dudes and find themselves investigating yet another murder.
I'm often skeptical when a mystery series with a well established cast of characters decides to take it on the road. See my review of Bloodroot by Susan Wittig Albert (2003) and Title Wave by Lorna Barrett (2018) for other examples I've reviewed. Red Velvet avoids the pitfalls by keeping the trip nearby and associated with the business.
The mystery itself has a skeleton in the closet twist to it. Figuring out what that old secret is and how it relates to the present day murder is a bit part of the fun.
The fifth book in the series is Going, Going, Ganache (2013).
Poison Ivy: Thorns: 09/10/21
Poison Ivy: Thorns by Kody Keplinger and Sara Kipin (Illustrations) starts with a scene reminiscent of "Pretty Poison" (Batman the Animated Series, Season 1, Episode 9) and spins off to a story that reminds me a lot of the Shou Tucker arc in Fullmetal Alchemist.
We're introduced to yet to be Poison Ivy — a high schooler named Pamela as she sets off toxic gas to protect the roses and other plants growing in a city park. The park is closed, selected for redevelopment by a massive corporation.
The toxic gas throws into motion another series of events that essentially carry the graphic novel to its conclusion. Alice, a classmate, is sent to Pamela's house until it's safe to move back into the homes around the park.
Alice's presence adds to tensions at home. Pamela's father is very secretive, paranoid, unethical, and abusive. At school, Pamela's being stalked by a boy who will not take no for an answer. The school administration doesn't want to punish the boy, choosing instead to victim shame and blame.
All of this male toxicity in Pamela's life is sure to boil over. Her actions may seem extreme but at the same time in her world they're justifiable too. She's pushed into being a villain because there is no room for abused women to defend themselves.
As with many of these YA graphic novels the afterword includes resources for readers facing their own toxic situations at home.
A Cajun Christmas Killing: 09/09/21
A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron is the third of the Cajun County mysteries. It's nearly Christmas which means it's bonfire season in Pelican. Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast usually has one of the largest but this year they have to cut back because the business is struggling and Maggie's Dad has to watch his heart.
To make things worse, a rival B&B businessman ends up dead and the Crozats are suspects once again. His death brings to light the shady shade of being a hotelier. Maggie has to find the right balance between working for her family and following her art career.
I'm not usually a fan of holiday themed books, especially Christmas ones. Often the regular character dynamics are set aside for a mushy sentimentality. Here Christmas is a marker of time only. Instead of it being a Dickens Day festival or similar, the town comes together for bonfires — something more of a solstice celebration than a Christmas one. It was a nice change from the usual schlock.
The fourth book in the series is Mardi Gras Murder (2018).
Turning Point: 09/08/21
Turning Point by Paula Chase is the third book in the So Done series. It's summer. Monique (Mo) is off to a ballet camp with another girl from the Cove. Meanwhile Rasheeda (Sheeda) is facing another summer of Vacation Bible Camp which always happens the same week as the carnival.
It seems that with each book the two parallel protagonists end up being in more and more separated in their stories. Turning Point takes this to an extreme by having the two in completely different cities. Their interactions together are done via texts.
Mo's half of the story is a fascinating look into the stresses of the ballet world. It's an incredibly white industry. It's an incredibly abusive industry where girls and women are expected to take themselves to physical extremes for a paradox of athleticism and waif thinness. On top of all of that Mo and her friend have to deal with all the micro-aggressions they receive because they are Black.
Sheeda's story was the half I could relate with more in that I had a relative who worked for a church during my teens. My summers were often a mix of church work (in my case weddings) and vacation bible school.
Marmalade's Nap: 09/07/21
Marmalade's Nap by Cindy Wheeler came out when I was ten but I didn't discover this series of books for another twenty years. I was given two of them as hand-me-downs when I was a mother of small children: Marmalade's Snowy Day (1982) and Marmalade's Yellow Leaf (1982). While going through storage I found these books which I've held onto even though my oldest is an adult and my youngest is in high school.
Part of my nostalgic tie to this book is a cat my parents were given when I was a senior in high school. That Marmalade was by far the most exasperating cat I've ever known. But my parents loved her and she loved them.
Marmalade of Cindy Wheeler's series is a more typical cat. She's an American ginger with similar adventures to Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970). But there are far fewer Marmalade books and they are harder to find as they're no longer in print.
In this volume, Marmalade wants to take a nap. She wants peace and quiet. She has the misfortune of living on a farm. She's not a barn cat at heart and the various baby animals she tries to sleep near are too noisy. Save, ironically for the last baby. Care to guess what species of animal the last baby is?
It's a cute book with a believable lead character. It introduces children to different kinds of animals. It provides a chance to predict the narrative through repetition. It has a satisfactory ending by subverting expectations.
The remaining two books are Marmalade's Picnic (1983) and Marmalade's Christmas Present (1984).
Dark Waters: 09/06/21
Dark Waters by Katherine Arden is the third book in the Small Spaces series. Coco, Ollie, and Brian are still recovering from their previous two encounters with the Smiling Man. Now their parents want to take them a cruise to search for Champ, the monster of Lake Champlain.
Before the cruise the children have already received a warning — a promise — from the Smiling Man. So it's no surprise when things go horribly wrong and they end up stranded on an island that shouldn't exist and is invisible to everyone else on the lake.
Katherine Arden reimagines Champ to be a terrifying, ever present, snake creature. Imagine something like freshwater eel and a boa constrictor. Arden's version is nightmare fuel.
One interesting change to the series is the addition of a fourth member to the children. The bully from the first book works on the boat that takes them to the island. The conceit up to this point has been that only the children who avoided being turned into scarecrows remembered the events of those days on the farm. Turns out, that's not true.
Like the previous two books, this adventure can be mapped onto the Road Narrative Spectrum. In the previous books, the children working separately from the adults, were marginalized travelers. This time, though, they are with their parents, collectively making them a family of travelers (33). This time their destination is a literal utopia or no-place (FF), being a nonexistent island. Their route there is like the first book, the cornfield (FF), this time, though represented by the tkaronto.
There's a fourth book in the works.
Death Gets a Time-Out: 09/05/21
Death Gets a Time-Out by Ayelet Waldman is the fourth book in the Mommy Track mystery series. Juliet Applebaum's movie star friend, Lilly, needs her help in clearing her step-brother's name. He's been accused of murder.
Jupiter is accused of murdering his stepmother which has forced Lilly to face painful memories of possibly shooting her own mother when she was five. The clues to both deaths lie in an exclusive rehab center in Ojai.
The Ojai center and it's ties to a 1960s era cult bring to mind a more recent mystery I either read or watched as a police procedural. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember where I saw this plot. I can say with some certainty that Death Gets a Time-Out is the older of the plots.
The central theme in this mystery series is that everything comes down to family. While Juliet and Ian are struggling to build theirs, others have reached the breaking point. The murderer is usually a relative of the victim and that's the case here. It was also the obvious solution too from early on. The only question was, how did the modern day murder relate to the older one?
The fifth book in the series is Murder Plays House (2004).
The Turn of the Screw: 09/04/21
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a horror novella from 1898. When I first read it, it was nearly one hundred years old. That first attempt didn't go well. It was one of the rare books I've finished that I rated one star (usually reserved for those did not finish volumes).
Twenty-three years later I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Netflix television adaptation, The Haunting of Bly Manor by the same people who adapted The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959). Wondering if I had missed something the first time through, I decided to re-read the book.
A nameless governess is hired to watch a pair of young orphans in a remote manor where their uncle refuses to visit. The previous governess is dead as is another former employee. Over her short tenure there, she sees a ghost and realizes that the boy, Miles, is probably possessed. And then Miles dies.
There's really and truly not much to the source material. Take away the Gothic trappings and the novella would probably shrink to a short story of maybe twenty pages. Henry James, though, padded nearly every sentence with copious amounts of words.
The extra words James used fall into one of two categories. The first is to warn the reader to look away before he relates the next scary thing. The second is to relate how the governess is feeling. She's either too scared to believe her eyes, extremely skeptical, or very worried. Throughout this re-read I spent most of my time wishing either the narrator or the governess would get to the bloody point.
So the tl:dr is that I enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor because it's a damn good adaptation and update. Also, endemic to the production team being American, the television series sits on the road narrative spectrum, whereas the source material does not.
Funky Chickens: 09/03/21
Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah is a collection of poetry about life as a young Black man in England. Each poem is illustrated with what appears to be clip art, giving a false sense of cheese.
The poems are emotional: sometimes funny and sometimes heart-wrenching. They cover a number of themes of city life. Collectively they remind me of Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans (2021).
The book is available as an ebook. It's a follow up to Talking Turkeys (1995), which is also now available as an ebook.
August 2021 Sources: 09/02/21
My husband is back at working in the office but it's not mandatory yet. The mandatory return date has been pushed back from sometime in September to January because of the Delta variant. Our youngest daughter is back at in person school. As she's in high school and fully vaxxed we're not too worried. That said, after the first week of class, there are already seven confirmed cases of COVID. This is at a school with a vaccination mandate, high vaccination rates, and required masking.
August forced me to reconsider my revised review schedule. While alternating types of books was good on paper in reality it was impossible to keep up with. I will continue to alternate in my reading but now I'm picking reviews based on my whim of the night. There just isn't enough of a backlog to be more stringent with scheduling.
In August I read 20 TBR books, up from July's 19 TBR. I read two books released last month. Five books were for research. None were review books or library books. The new ones book raised my score from -3.97 to -3.81. It was my second best August in twelve years of tracking, with last August being my best.
I suspect my September ROOB score will remain around 3.8.
My average for August improved from -2.83 to -2.91.
Lucy in the Sky: 09/01/21
Lucy in the Sky by Kiara Brinkman and Sean Chiki (Illustrations) is set in 2012-2013. Lucy Sutcliffe discovers her father's collection of Beatle's records. At the same time she convinces her two besties and another girl at their K-8 school to form a band. Over the course of their last year at the school their band and friendship will mimic the rocky career of the Beatles.
Besides the Beatles music, Lucy has to come to terms with her grandmother's failing health. Cookie has been fighting cancer but now it's clear that the treatments are no longer working. She decides to forego further treatment and her acceptance of death has Lucy and her father reeling.
Lucy is closer to her grandmother than her mother. When Mom arrives home, we see a similar rocky relationship between her and Cookie as we do with her and Lucy.
There's also Lucy's attempt to get her father to date again. He and Lucy's mother have been divorced for some time. Her attempts to hook him up with a single mom they know at the duck pond is adorably awkward.
Mostly though, the book is about the tensions of starting a band and how bringing in someone new sets everyone on edge. If the book was only focused on the band dynamics, I would have probably set the book aside. But in the context of the Beatles and the other pieces of Lucy's life, it makes sense.
August 2021 Summary: 09/01/21
August continued with the cautious reopening of things. Schools went back for in person learning. That means I have the place to myself during the day. I have to relearn the pre-COVID schedules. COVID is still around and Delta variant is something to be concerned about.
I read fewer books in August, 27, down from 30 in the previous month. Of my August read books, fifteen were diverse. On the reviews front, nineteen qualified, meaning I didn't make my goal. Of those read, seven were queer. Of the reviewed books, seven were.
I have 26 books of the 213 books read this year to review. I am basically running in place now between books read and reviews posted.