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January 2022

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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Beat the Backlist 2022

Canadian Book Challenge: 2021-2022

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A Three Book Problem: 01/22/22

A Three Book Problem

A Three Book Problem by Vicki Delany and Kim Hicks (Narrator) is the seventh book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. Gemma and Jayne have been hired to cater a weekend Sherlock Holmes themed event at Suffolk Gardens House. Before the weekend is over, the host is murdered in a method right out of The Sign of the Four (1890).

Gemma is literally next to the man as he's murdered. In previous volumes she's been exceptionally observant. This time though she seems to take stubborn pride in not observing key things. Gemma is essentially Nerfed for the majority of the book and no sensible reason is given beyond not wanting to piss off her boyfriend while he investigates. Literally the instant she decides to employ her powers of observation she figures everything out. By then, though, ninety percent of the book is over — and we've had to sit through so much idle speculation about possible motives that have no bearing on the crime.

The other disappointment for me was in my decision to listen to the audiobook instead of reading it in print. Kim Hicks gives the police detective a high pitched, nasally voice similar to how the two detectives were voiced in A Study in Murder by Callie Hutton (2020). Is this a British trope that a was imported by the narrator? Sure, Gemma is English but the novel is set in Massachusetts. There's no reasonable expectation for the detective to sound like that! It just makes the detective stand out against the other characters. The affected voice is jarring and painful to listen to.

Three stars

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Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 4: 01/20/22

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 4

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 4 by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi (Illustrations) returns to the source material's roots, while expanding on the MI6, James Bond, tangent. Moran and Moneypenny are sent to India.

I much prefer these spy plots to the revenge killing plots. It's interesting to see how well the two mystery series blend together. The Bond plots help to give the manga a well needed focus. Left to its own devices, this series can quickly devolve into a fetishization of violence.

This plot too ties back to Watson's backstory as a soldier and medic who served in Afghanistan. Here the goal is stop a top level gunrunner who is trying to keep the war going.

The English translation of volume 5 released in October 2021.

Five stars

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Murder Ink: 01/19/22

Murder Ink

Murder Ink by Lorraine Bartlett, Gayle Leeson and Jorjeana Marie (Narrator) is the sixth in the Victoria Square mystery series. It also appears to be the last of the books done as audiobooks and the last published by Berkeley. The seventh has a different publisher.

The tea shop is thriving under Katie Bonner's ownership but she's forced to hire a new manager/chef. Now, though, he seems to be tied to some shady dealings around the square, including the death of a tattoo artist's brother.

A lot of this book's narrative drive is based on the Victoria Square shop owners' bad vibes. They don't want a tattoo parlor in their precious square and their obvious prejudice leads to trouble. Unfortunately, they're also rewarded for their exclusionary practices by having him revealed to be in fact shady.

The more interesting mystery, though, is a subtler one in Artisans' Alley. Here, to the observant reader, the real mystery is just as obvious even if it's not to Katie.

The seventh book is A Murderous Misconception (2020).

Four stars

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Cinder the Fireplace Boy (Rewoven Tales): 01/17/22

Cinder the Fireplace Boy (Rewoven Tales)

Cinder the Fireplace Boy (Rewoven Tales) by Ana Mardoll is a collection of queer fairytales inspired by the Grimms' fairytales. There are thirty one retellings in all.

Each story includes the pronouns for all the major characters and a content warning. At the close of each story the original story is listed and most also include a link to a version to read on Project Gutenberg.

While Mardoll chose to write in the style of the Brothers Grimm they are not just gender and pronoun swapped versions. I suggest familiarizing yourself first with the source material before making that assumption as many early reviewers did.

Four stars

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Dear Justyce: 01/15/22

Dear Justyce

Dear Justyce is the follow-up, companion piece to Dear Martin (2017). Like Justyce wrote to Dr. King during his incarceration, Quan writes to Justyce while he awaits trial for a crime he has pled not guilty for.

Through the letters and other scenes, Quan's life story unfolds, including the events leading up to the shooting death of the officer.

Quan's story is of a smart child not given the chances to thrive. When he gets high marks on a math test he's accused of cheating. Even his mother doesn't believe him. His home life is bad. He and his mother and younger siblings live with her abusive boyfriend. He's forced at times to steal to put food on the table.

Quan's a good kid struggling in a system set up to make him fail. He's forced by circumstances beyond his control to make decisions that will further criminalize his reputation in the eyes of the adults in his life.

The afterword is worth a read as it explains the inspiration for the book and the numerous real world Quans, most of whom don't get the happy ending he does.

Four stars

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Hot-Air Henry: 01/14/22

Hot-Air Henry

Hot-Air Henry by Mary Calhoun and Erick Ingraham (Illustrations) is the second of the Henry the Siamese cat picture books. While this book was published when I was a child, I only discovered the series as an adult.

The gist of these books are that Henry is taken along when his human family are on their latest adventure. In this case, the Man is in the countryside to do his first solo flight of a hot air balloon.

Henry wants to participate and gets into the basket. He's shooed off the balloon but through a series of misadventures ends up back on and the balloon ends up taking off without the Man.

As with the other books in the series I've read, the majority of the pages are focused on Henry's solo adventure. First he's scared and then he figures out what's going on. Through experimentation he learns how to rescue himself.

In counterpoint Henry's family does what they can to track the balloon. They are there to meet the cat but otherwise don't do anything to rescue him.

This particular book has a dramatic climax where Henry has to keep the balloon afloat but has an angry goose making things worse.

Erick Ingraham's illustrations are wonderful. They're the right balance of realistic and humorous.

The third book is High-Wire Henry (1991)

Five stars

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Where the Drowned Girls Go: 01/12/22

Where the Drowned Girls Go

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire is the seventh book in the Wayward Children series. Cora, the girl who had drowned and become a mermaid and then gotten the unwanted attention of the Old Ones transfers to a different school. The Whitehorn Institute promises to make her forget her door, thus shutting her off from the nightmares and on-going threat from the monsters on the other side of it.

Where Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children encourages children to talk about their experiences — to fully embrace what happened to them — the Whitehorn Institute forces the children to focus on their harsh, non-magical reality until they graduate. Cora who arrives with mermaid hair and sparkly rainbow skin would have drawn unwanted attention and teasing from the staff and students. That she's also fat only makes things worse but she is here of her own decision and has unfortunately come to expect this treatment.

From the very introduction of the Whitehorn Institute it gave me a Promised Neverland vibe even though the girls Cora interacts with are all older than the characters in the manga/anime. There's also the fact that despite it's off-putting atmosphere, students aren't being harvested. They, are though being abused and given false hope in a way similar to how Neverland is described in Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2021).

Chart showing the placement and relationship of the seven volumes on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Like the previous six volumes, Where the Drowned Girls Go has a place on the Road Narrative Spectrum. As this series grows the relationship between volumes becomes more complex. The black arrows on the chart show the progression of the series in publication order through the spectrum. The gray arrows show specific relationships between volumes.

Volume seven includes a continuation of character arcs for Regan (Across the Green Grass Fields (2020) and Suomi (Beneath the Sugar Sky (2019).

Like Volume three, this book has a scarecrow/minotaur dichotomy for the traveler (99). Cora, while treated by many as a monster (or minotaur) she sets out to save those at her new school who want to be saved when it becomes abundantly clear that there is an evil running the place.

Cora's destination is the wildlands in the form of the school's remote location. Furthermore the school grounds include a walled in forest (again, similar to The Promised Neverland). Finally there is the longer range goal of returning through personal doors, many of which are quite wild.

Cora's route is through the maze. There is the lingering threat of the Old Ones. There is the unspecified, undefined but ever present wrongness of the Institute. There is physical evidence of the danger posed by the powers behind the Institute. Cora and everyone else there are in danger or are already victims of that danger.

Book eight is Lost in the Moment and Found. It's scheduled for a January 2023 release.

Four stars

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Invisible Kingdom, Volume 1: Walking the Path: 01/11/22

Invisible Kingdom, Volume 1: Walking the Path

Invisible Kingdom, Volume 1: Walking the Path by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward (Artist) is the start of a science fiction comic book series that is reminiscent of the Descender and Ascender series by Jeff Lemire.

The crew of an underpaid (and thus poorly maintained) delivery crew (think Amazon in space) discover something awry with the ordering system. Meanwhile, a new initiate to a strict religious order discovers financial ties between the convent and the mega-corporation. All hell breaks loose and both the None (yes, that's how it's spelled here) and the crew find themselves in a life and death race against the two massive entities hell bent on killing them.

The inevitable plot twist was obvious from the get go. The Technicolor palette that seems to be the extreme backlash against the grim dark style of the 1990s-2000s is becoming a bit of a cliche.

The second volume is The Edge of Everything (2020). I have it borrowed from the library.

Three stars

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The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion: 01/10/22

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberly is the fifth in the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. Pen has an elderly shut-in as one of her regular customers. Her latest delivery is late so Pen goes to make the delivery herself and discovers the woman dead, her body on an unusually designed pentagram.

In the reading of the will it's revealed that Seymour Tarnish has inherited the shut-in's mansion. There's just one huge caveat, the place is haunted and tied to possible black magic rituals. Since Pen already knows a ghost, she's willing to believe in the haunting. Jack, the ghost, though, is skeptical.

As with the previous mysteries, the modern day mystery — how did the woman die — is tied with one of Jack's cold cases. How the two tied together was a little harder to sort out. The modern day mystery, though, was fairly straightforward, though still entertaining.

With each book the amount of time the male narrator has to read the parts diminishes. This is a good thing. The woman who reads the majority of the book does far more convincing male voices than he does with female. This time he only reads the prolog.

The sixth book is The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller (2018) and is the first one attributed to Cleo Coyle.

Five stars

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Bury the Lede: 01/08/22

Bury the Lede

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn is a graphic novel about a newspaper intern learning the ropes from an award winning reporter. Together they break a huge story that cuts at the heart of corruption in Boston.

At the heart of it, Bury the Lede is a mystery. A woman is in jail accused of killing her husband and son. The son's body, though, hasn't been found. Madison doesn't believe the wife did it and sets out to discover who did.

As this is also a story about how newspapers work, the focus is narrow, sticking to what a reporter can do within their bounds. That includes the rocky relationship between intern and mentor.

The book is a standalone but I would definitely read another volume — another mystery — if one were published.

Four stars

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A Whisker of a Doubt: 01/07/22

A Whisker of a Doubt

A Whisker of a Doubt by Cate Conte and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) is the fourth book in the Cat Cafe mystery series. Maddie James is stewing over being snubbed at Thanksgiving and doesn't want to talk to Lucas even though he's returned and apparently wants to explain what happened. Instead she's keeping busy with a feral cat community in a wealthy neighborhood and the investigation of the murder of one of the street's residents.

This volume, unlike previous ones is told out of order. It starts with the discovery of Virgil's body and then (for the most part) moves backwards in time to the events leading up to Maddie finding him. Each chapter starts with a date and time. I personally hate this method of story telling, especially with mysteries. So I found this narrative choice an unwanted distraction.

I have mixed feelings too about the time spent on Lucas. I wish Maddie had just spoken to him at the start of the book to save all this ridiculous melodrama. Even though Luca's reasons for missing Thanksgiving were completely understandable, I wish Maddie's family and friends had accepted her autonomy and let her work things out with him (or not) on her own time table.

Finally, the mystery itself is good. It just gets a little lost in the out of order narrative and the romantic melodrama. It ends up having a similar basic structure as Deadly Daggers by Joyce and Jim Lavene (2010).

The fifth book is Claws for Alarm (2021).

Four stars

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The Year We Learned to Fly: 01/06/21

The Year We Learned to Fly

The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López (Illustrator) is the tale of siblings who learn to harness their imaginations. They are guided by their patient grandmother and are able to rise above the negativity they receive when their family moves from the city to the suburbs.

In modern lingo the book is about mindfulness. It's about being centered and confident in oneself in trying times. For the children it's learning how to play by themselves on a day when they can't go outside; how to understand another's frustration and to not be drawn to anger; how to be yourself when others say you don't fit in.

Per the afterword, this book was inspired by The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton with illustrations by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon (1985). The connection between the two books is evident first in the grandmother's guidance for the siblings; Woodson's books are often focused on generational storytelling. But Rafael López's colorful illustrations are a modern homage to the Dillons.

Rafael López works in mixed media. The illustrations are described as a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, and watercolors that are then brought together in Photoshop. That said, they are a coherent, consistent, beautiful window in the world of these siblings through their year of learning to fly.

Five stars

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Ghastly Glass: 01/05/21

Ghastly Glass

Ghastly Glass by Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene is the second book in the Renaissance Faire mystery series. I read it back in March at a time when I still had a sizable backlog of reviews to post. Book two slipped through the cracks until I posted the review of the third book, Ghastly Glass.

In this one, Jessie Morton is apprenticing to the park's glassblower. But he's an ass and his nephew is a creep. And then the man playing the Grim Reaper is murdered, giving Jessie a well needed distraction.

This particular mystery is eighty percent red herrings, fifteen percent utter nonsense, and five percent actual mystery. The murderer in their introductory scene practically announces their involvement in the crime. The murderer is blatantly obvious in the first fifty pages and the remainder of the book is just filler.

The series is set up on the premise that Jessie can apprentice at different jobs in the park for her research. All of these jobs require a certain amount of expertise and it's hard to believe that anyone would be allowed to apprentice without any sort of preparation. Book two and three's experts, are experts only by informed attribute. Neither of them actually demonstrate the skills or knowledge to mentor Jessie or anyone else. Maybe that's why she keeps getting these apprenticeships?

Three stars

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Sarah Somebody: 01/04/21

Sarah Somebody

Sarah Somebody by Florence Slobodkin and Louis Slobodkin is a picture book inspired by the author and illustrator's grandmother. As a child in Poland Sarah was given a chance to go to an all girl's school in a time when schooling was reserved for boys.

The book is also about the sacrifices families make to better their children's lives. The school had a monthly fee and later an extra fee to pay for heating.

It's also about how children can help each other. Sarah who learns to write beautifully uses that to earn money to help others. The last person she helps in the book is her grandmother, whose name we learn at the end when she asks Sarah to write it for her.

It's a slow, deep story, one well suited for older elementary students or very patient younger ones. It's also about Jewish life without being either a Hanukkah or Holocaust book.

Four stars

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My Life in Transition: 01/03/21

My Life in Transition

My Life in Transition by Julia Kaye is the follow up to Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition (2018). This volume focuses on the next year or so. Kaye covers relationships, being out at work, and getting her name and gender legally changed.

The nuts and bolts of being trans — namely the coming out to coworkers and the legal paperwork were the most interesting to me. The paperwork especially should be easy but there's always one last thing. Things that should be separate end up hinging on something else. There's always that one last account or that one last document.

The coworkers and friends bit too is relatable. How often do you have to remind people of the new name and correct pronouns. How much of that is forgetfulness vs. bigotry? Who are the surprises — the ones who are instantly accepting that didn't seem like they would be vs. those who should be and just never do?

The part of the book that fell flat for me were the numerous panels devoted to relationships. That's on me and my own lack of relationship experience. I just didn't connect with the emotional blowback when relationships failed. Nor do I have any experience of dating in the internet era.

Four stars

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December 2021 Sources: 01/02/22

Previous month's book sources

The slide scanning project is still forefront on my priorities. That said, I was eager to complete my reading challenge, so I did more reading than expected.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In December I read 26 TBR books, up from November's 15 TBR. I read one book published in December. Two books were for research. One was for review. The one new book raised my score from -4.58 to -4.28. Despite that, it was my best December in twelve years.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I was pretty close to my expected score. January will mean the first releases of new books this year. My score will definitely go up. I suspect it will be around -3 or possibly as high as -2.5

ROOB monthly averages

My average for December improved from -2.75 to -2.88.

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Trick or Treat Murder: 01/01/22

Trick or Treat Murder

Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier is the third Lucy Stone mystery. It's nearly Halloween and Tinkers Cove is dealing with a series of fires. It's been a dry year so at first no one seems to think anything of a few old buildings catching fire. But then a beautifully restored old house is burned to ashes, killing a woman in the process.

Lucy Stone's life now is completely taken up with her children, especially her youngest who is still an infant. Despite that, she finds herself getting pulled into the mystery of the fires and the woman's death.

The entire mystery is centered around Halloween and a party being held at a historic home. An observant reader will see what the mystery is building to. They will also be able to spot who the arson/murderer is.

The odd bit of the novel is its lengthy denouement. After the inevitable event and Lucy's near death experience, there's a long section involving her recovery and some weird gaslighting by the hospital.

There's also a completely unnecessary secondary confrontation between Lucy and arsonist. The murderer would have gotten away with everything had they just left Lucy alone after she survived the fire. The ending reads like one of the more unhinged episodes of Criminal Minds.

The fourth book is Back to School Murder (1997).

Four stars

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December 2021 Summary: 01/01/22

Reading report

December was fairly normal for us despite the world bracing for Omicron. Our oldest spent the last two weeks with us. Christmas and New Year's Eve was just the four of us.

I read more books in December, 32, down from 21 in the previous month. Of my December read books, 22 were diverse. I am still primarily reviewing on days I finish a book, although I had some days in December where I finished two books. Despite the slower reading for the last quarter of the year, I did meet my reading goal. For 2022, I have lowered my goal for now to 200. In December I reviewed 24 books, up, from 19 the previous month. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Seven read and reviewed books were queer.

I have 37 books of the 311 books read in 2021 to review.

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