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March 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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Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares: 03/31/22

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the second book in this middle grade fantasy series. Since going head to head with La Llorona, things have been strained between Paola, Dante, and Emma. Despite being neighbors and long time besties, Paola and Dante barely speak to each other.

At home things aren't much better. Her mother has started dating and now there's a serious boyfriend in the picture. Now it looks like he's going to be moving in and Paola's not sure that's a good idea.

To further complicate things, Paola has started having prophetic dreams. They always involve a shadowy figure, dancing green creatures, and a creepy forest. When the dreams start happening when she's awake and begin to involve Dante's abuela, Paola has to get her friends back together before something terrible happens.

Where the first book stayed close to home with the doorway al otro lado being in a nearby cactus grove, this one takes Paola and Dante on a cross state roadtrip for answers. It involves taking risks and essentially running away from home, albeit temporarily.

Of course there's a new monster along the way one who is completely appropriate for a road trip through California. But there are other supernatural surprises which I don't want to spoil here. I found volume two to be quite the nail-biter.

Placement of the two Paola Santiago novels on the Road Narrative Spectrum

It's both a literal road trip and a metaphorical one, which puts this novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. This time Paola travels in a group but as young teens traveling across state lines unaccompanied by adults, they are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is the forest of Paola's visions and more literally, a forest in southern Oregon. Both of these represent the wildlands (99). Their route there is off the interstates to avoid the CHP and other authorities. The route as described in the book puts them on the Blue Highway (33). Thus on the Road Narrative Spectrum Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares can be summarized as being a tale of marginalized travels going to the wildlands via the Blue Highway (669933).

There's a third book Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows. It releases on August 2, 2022.

Five stars

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The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem: 03/30/22

The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem

The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham (illustrator) is the eighth Princess in Black book. It's winter time and while Princess Magnolia is enjoying being snuggly in doors, the Princess in Black and her steed have a snow day play date.

Play dates never go as planned, it seems. This time there's a giant who is leaving a path of destruction as he stomps through the snow. Can the Princess in Black and the other heroes stop him before he reaches the village?

This book asks the question: when is a monster not a monster? When is destruction accidental and not malicious?

The book also introduces a bunch more heroes — or princesses in disguise. Each one, though, seems to have an even more ridiculous costume. As with the previous books I am holding out hope that the princesses will acknowledge their work as superheroes. It would make life so much easier for everyone!

The ninth book is The Princess in Black and the Mermaid Princess. It released on February 1, 2022.

Four stars

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With Lots of Love: 03/29/22

With Lots of Love

With Lots of Love by Jenny Torres Sanchez and Andres Ceolin (Illustrations) is a picture book about a young girl adjusting to living in a new country and finding ways of staying connected with her family.

Rocio was born in Costa Rica and now she and her parents are living in Florida. She misses her grandmother and the things they used to do together.

While Rocio sketches she remembers her grandmother, her store, and the piñatas sold there. She comes to realize she wishes she had a keepsake from her grandmother. But now miles and miles away, how will that be possible?

Through out Andreas Ceolin uses shades of burnt orange and turquoise to illustrate Rocio's story. The hues and tones used unite the old home with the new. Visually the message is that Rocio's abuela is never all that far away as long as she's kept in her heart.

Five stars

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Private I. Guana: The Case of the Missing Chameleon: 03/28/22

Private I. Guana: The Case of the Missing Chameleon

Private I. Guana: The Case of the Missing Chameleon by Nina Laden is a picture book missing persons mystery. Or more precisely, it's a missing chameleon story, written in a child friendly homage to the hardboiled detective novels and movies of the past.

The mystery hinges on the realization that Leon is working under the name Camille. See they're a gender queer Camille-Leon. This plot twist has been done before in this genre; it was a trope in the 1970s and 1980s. Often the plot twist is cringeworthy. But here it's done respectfully and matter of factly.

My one quibble is in the epilog. Leon's family is supportive of their new career as a performer. He's encouraged to follow his dream but in his epilog show he's performing as Leon, not Camille. It would have been nice to show that the familial support includes being openly gender queer.

Four stars

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The First Misadventure: 03/27/22

The First Misadventure

The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin and Kevin Cornell (Illustrations) is the start of the Chicken Squad series. Narrated by J.J. the retired rescue dog, it's the tale of four chicks who solve mysteries. Their first client is a squirrel who had a close encounter of the third kind.

This series written for elementary school aged readers is a good early introduction to the structure and tropes of mystery and detective fiction. The short, heavily illustrated chapters make this book perfect for reading aloud — either at school or before bed.

The book builds is mystery around the experiences and perceptions of the characters. Since they are all small creatures (minus J.J. who is larger, older, and more world wise), the things the describe are done so creatively. The fun of this first book is figuring out what exactly the thing scaring the squirrel is. Even after it's been identified, it's not necessarily properly done so. The illustrations and J.J.'s confirmation later will gives a humorous counterpoint to what the chickens and squirrel have collectively agreed they've seen.

The second book is The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken (2014).

Four stars

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Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: The Neighborhood: 03/26/22

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: The Neighborhood

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: The Neighborhood is actually the sixteenth of the "Detective Comics" omnibuses that started in 2016. It includes issues 1034-1039 and some side issues written by other authors.

Mariko Tamaki's piece is the "The Neighborhood" arc. Bruce Wayne, having lost his company to Fox is now living in a walk-up in the middle of Gotham. As Batman he's lost access to the Bat Cave and is using some older sewer tunnels instead.

Meanwhile something is driving up the violence in Gotham. I mean, someone or something always is, but this one seems to be targeting specific people, causing certain people to hurt or kill other certain people. It's not the large scale affairs of the older supervillains.

The side stories are there to give backstory and context when a simple sidebar wouldn't be enough. They're a little odd though in that they come with little to no warning and are all written/illustrated by different teams than Tamaki and Mora. Ultimately it's better than being given a couple dozen sidebar notes to read such and such issue to get the full context.

I don't know if there's a volume 2 in the pipeline. If there is and if it's written by Mariko Tamaki again, I will read it. If there is and it's written by someone else, I'll consider it but it's not a guarantee.

Four stars

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Orlando: 03/25/22


Orlando by Virginia Woolf isn't a book I expected to write about on this blog. I have a rocky relationship with it and figured I would never attempt a second read. But the things we do for family!

Orlando is the tale of a privileged individual from the Elizabethan finding immortality and a change of gender and eventually love. The novel is written as one of those interminable Victorian biographies — such as the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. It's not a trope I'm particularly fond of and the fact that Virginia Woolf sticks with that approach until practically the last chapter makes sitting through this book a chore.

The other thing that annoys me about how this book is written is the way each chapter emulates the writing style of the era in which it is set. It makes for an inconsistent tone, with the fictional biographer's interludes being an attempt to sew together all these tones.

My first attempt at reading this book was doomed from the get-go. It was one of a large pile of literature to read for a science fiction print to silver screen upper division course I was taking. While I am normally a very organized student, I somehow blanked on the Orlando reading assignment until the night before it was due. Suffice it to say, I didn't do well on that assignment as the novel isn't easy to skim.

Nearly thirty years later my oldest is in college and was assigned Orlando. She and novel clicked. As she is transgender, Orlando's overnight gender change was a huge deal to her. On her enthusiastic instance, I decided to re-read the book. I also opted to read the book in the way that she had, namely, as an audiobook.

For a week, the life and times or Orlando was my background. I listened while painting, while doing chores, while working on puzzles before bed. Most of that week was spent slogging through the early eras of Orlando's life — the time as a boy and as a young man of means.

Things turned around for me in the chapter where Orlando is transformed from man to woman during a lengthy coma. While this transformation scene is the first overtly magical one in the novel, there's already a hint that things aren't right. Orlando's early adulthood — late twenties, and early thirties — take way more years than what he ages.

Orlando's new gender, though, gives the narrator and author the permission to admit that other funky stuff has been going on. The immortality is but one example of Orlando's strange relationship with time.

Orlando's experience of time is what puts this novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. It's a rare British example — an outlier. Despite Orlando's magical transition from male to female, she remains from start to finish, a privileged traveler (00); Orlando has real estate, a title, and money. Orlando's destination is uhoria (CC) as represented by immortality and by glimpses of places out of time as portals sometimes open up during moments of emotional despair. The route is the labyrinth in that Orlando is transformed (literally and figuratively) through the experiences of a long life.

Four stars

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Art Matters: 03/23/22

Art Matters

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell is a slim volume containing four essays about the creative process. They are: "Credo", "Make Good Art", "Making a Chair", and "On Libraries."

I've had this book since it was first published. I bought it more for the Chris Riddell illustrations. I had finished reading his Ottaline series. I had also recently started following him on Instagram and had seen him publish pieces that eventually became pages in this collection.

Despite all that, it wasn't the right time to read the book. That is until January 1st, 2022. We are entering our second year of life during COVID. The world is in flux and with Omicron spiking and the reality that at least temporarily we'd be on lockdown again, it was finally time.

The essays, though, weren't the uplift I was hoping for the new year. Gaiman describes a world that no longer exists. He describes the chances he took that got him where he is. These tricks won't work for the majority of the readers. They certainly won't work for marginalized artists at the scale they have worked for him.

Three stars

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One True Loves: 03/22/22

One True Loves

One True Loves by Elise Bryant is the second YA/NA romance in the Happily Ever Afters series. Lenore has graduated from Chrysalis and will be off to study Art History at NYU after a family cruise along the Mediterranean. She's hurting though, after she learns she was the other woman and she's not sure she actually likes her college plans.

Lenore though doesn't have the freedom to second guess herself. She's grown up with the lesson that Black people only get one chance. They have to be better, more driven, more organized to get anywhere. Black students don't take gap years. They don't go to college undeclared. They can't show weakness.

Her bestie, Tessa, convinces Lenore to toss two coins in the Trevi fountain to find her true love. And the meets Alex. He's gorgeous but he seems like Jay 2.0. Yet they're stuck together at the same table every night for dinner. Their families go on tours together at different ports of call.

Lenore and Alex's romance is sweet and it's predictable. It has it's ups and downs and the HEA. It's why you're reading the book.

But there's a B plot — a heart wrenching side plot about her brother Wally. Wally is presented as the dramatic foil to Lenore's romance but he's also her future. He's the fallout from all the stress that their parents have put on him and are now putting on her.

Wally's story and his relationship with Lenore struck home. I recognized similar struggles my own adult and high school children are having.

I don't know if any more romances set around Chrysalis School are planned but I would definitely read a third.

Five stars

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And Then There Were Crumbs: 03/21/22

And Then There Were Crumbs

And Then There Were Crumbs by Eve Calder and Christa Lewis (Narrator) is the start of the Cookie House mystery series. It features another woman at a crossroads in her life, fleeing the big city to make a new start in a small town. This time it's pasty chef, Kate McGuire, who has left Manhattan and newly arrived in Coral Kay, Florida.

Kate by the skin of her teeth manages to find a place to stay and work: a bakery run by a cantankerous man, Sam Hepplewhite, who refuses to allow cookies in his shop. His specialty is sourdough. Before she can even get settled, there's a break-in and then a murder that points to Kate's new boss.

And Then There Were Crumbs takes advantage of it's location to bring in a diverse cast of supporting characters. I especially love Maxi, the Cuban-American florist who takes Kate in when her boss is arrested. She is the lifeline that Kate needs to succeed: both in keeping the bakery afloat while Sam is in jail, and in clearing his name.

I listened to the audio and Christa Lewis does a marvelous job of bringing each of the characters to life. Each one is distinct and easily recognizable.

The second book is Sugar and Vice (2020).

Five stars

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Claws for Alarm: 03/19/22

Claws for Alarm

Claws for Alarm by Cate Conte is the fifth book in the Cat Café mystery series. Maddie James has opened up her cat café, JJ's House of Purrs, to fifteen cats, to accommodate kitten season. The café has garnered some national attention and has been invited to do a high end fundraiser to benefit the local animal shelter.

Well before the big day, the event planner is murdered. Frankly given how she was obviously running a long con, it was no surprise to me that she'd end up the murder victim for this volume. Maddie now is tasked with setting up the event and solving the murder.

This mystery mostly hinges on Maddie's own naïveté and her in ability to say no. The other adults in her life are forced to keep secrets from her because she clearly has a track record of being taken in by the first suggestion that comes her away. It's compounded by her inability to keep secrets. These two huge character flaws fly against the continued informed attribute that she's good at setting up and running businesses.

The nuts and bolts of the mystery were still enough of a puzzle to make listening interesting. The murderer's identity wasn't that hard to figure out, although the motive took a little longer.

The sixth book is Gone but not Furgotten. It's scheduled for release on June 28, 2022.

Four stars

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Love in the Library: 03/18/22

Love in the Library

Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Yas Imamura (Illustrator) is a picture book set in the Minidoka Japanese internment camp. It's a fictionalized account of how the author's grandparents met and fell in love while she was running the camp's library.

The book is a quiet one focused primarily on two people: Tama and George. Through Tama's dedication to keeping the library running despite not being a librarian and George's daily visits, the author shows the enduring human spirit.

The author also includes frank descriptions of life in the camp outside of the library. Things are not sugar coated. The vocabulary is simple enough for young children to understand if they are read the book and easy enough for second or third graders to read on their own.

Yas Imamura's illustrations use earth tones and simple shapes to draw the eye in. The choice of palette conveys both the history of events portrayed and the constant struggle with dirt, dust, and mud that the people imprisoned there had to endure on a daily basis. The author describes Imamura's work as capable of conveying "nuance, subtlety, and beauty even in grim places" on Instagram.

Five stars

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The Music Shop: 03/17/22

The Music Shop

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is set primarily in 1987-1988 in a British industrial town, known mostly for its crisps factory. Like Hayward of that decade, too much of the economy hinges on one industry and the rest of the town is suffering for it.

But there are also flashbacks to fourteen years earlier when Frank first buys the abandoned, completely trashed storefront that becomes his music shop. It's not he knows how to run a record shop. But he knows and loves music and has a diehard loyalty to vinyl, even as it appears its on the way out in lieu of cassettes and CDs.

As things are looking bleak, Frank's world turns upside down when a mysterious woman faints outside his store. Ilse, a German speaking woman, has moved to the city for reasons all her own. She claims to not listen to music but Frank manages to find something just right for her. On the strength of his first recommendation, she hires him for "music lessons" which they take at a restaurant under the watchful eye of an overworked waitress.

Mostly this novel is atmosphere. It's the struggling dead end street and its shops as the economy contracts. It's a business owner stubbornly resisting change and his headstrong belief that he'll be able to weather it. It's a mysterious woman who has clearly fallen for said oblivious shopkeep.

As this story was published in 2017 for readers of that era, the average reader will have the 20/20 hindsight to know that Frank's love of vinyl will pay him off someday. So then the nagging background feeling throughout is what will happen to prevent the survival of Frank's store? How do these two potential lovebirds get to the present? Do they?

For anyone curious, yes, there is an HEA but it comes at a cost. This is an HEA for an older couple, not the newly middle aged ones they are in the bulk of the book.

I happened to read an imported copy to avoid any Americanization of the text. The excessively regionalism of the language is so key to setting this story in a place and time.

Five stars

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Gladys the Magic Chicken: 03/16/22

Gladys the Magic Chicken

Gladys the Magic Chicken by Adam Rubin and Adam Rex (Illustrations) is the tale of a hen who travels the world, driven by her reputation for being magical.

Her adventure begins with a wish by a lonely shepherd. He wishes to be beautiful and eventually he is. But when you have no sense of time due to self isolation, it's easy to see the magic in change.

Gladys's adventures are set in ancient times. Adam Rex's illustrations evoke a Sumerian feel but the specifics are never stated in story.

Mostly though it's about one hen living her best life, driving by her reputation. It's a bit like the wear the clothes for the job you want. Whether or not Gladys is magical at the start is immaterial. She helps people realize their dreams.

Five stars

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Hot and Sour Suspects: 03/14/22

Hot and Sour Suspects

Hot and Sour Suspects by Vivien Chien is the eighth book in the Noodle Shop mystery series. This may be the last one per the introduction. That said, it ends ambiguously meaning if she's up for it, there might be a ninth book.

The Ho-Lee Noodle House is hosting its first speed dating event. Unexpectedly Lana's friend Rina shows up to participate. After a scuffle with a jilted ex-girlfriend, Rina goes home with a questionable date and later he ends up dead. Rina is the prime suspect.

While the set up of the murder and the discovery of the body is completely different, the middle section shares a lot in terms of logistics with Honey Roasted by Cleo Coyle (2022). As I just read the latest Coffeehouse mystery, I recognized the similarities instantly and knew who had committed the murder and how. That said, I still enjoyed the mystery.

Except for the ambiguous epilog where Lana promises to stop investigating murders to her boyfriend but also promises that nothing will stop her, there's not much in the way of character or plot advancement. Lana and her family come off like they're in a holding pattern. I think that's a function of the author writing through her illness.

Four stars

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Death by Hot Apple Cider: 03/13/22

Death by Hot Apple Cider

Death by Hot Apple Cider by Alex Erickson is the ninth in the Bookstore Cafe mystery series. Krissy Hancock and Death by Coffee are providing the apple cider at the Pine Hills Thanksgiving celebration. Unfortunately someone drowns in cider while bobbing for apples — and it turns out he was murdered.

The murder victim was known for harassing people he believed were peddling or teaching filth. The bookstore, library, and local high school were all targets of his. Krissy's investigation thus goes to all of the places he frequented, leading to interesting and sometimes tense results.

The middle section of this mystery reminds me a bit of Muffin But Trouble (2019) but written in a less grim-dark tone. It's not that Alex Erickson is flippant with his approach, rather that the "cult" Krissy encounters is less established and less threatening.

The tenth book is Death by Spiced Chai. It's scheduled for release on October 25, 2022.

Four stars

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Hollywood Homicide: 03/12/22

Hollywood Homicide

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett is the start of the Detective by Day mystery series. Dayna Anderson doesn't want to be spending her time investigating a murder but she and her friends witnessed something that could break a case wide open. There's also a hefty reward and she desperately needs the money.

The investigation begins simply enough: trying to identify and remember the details of the speeding car that nearly hit them. But the process leads down a rabbit hole and pretty soon she's full on investigating.

The setting is Los Angeles — Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and surrounds. It's the same area as the Mommy-Track mystery series by Ayelet Waldman. The series, though, are separated by a decade. The focus is different two: older vs younger, married vs. single, white and Jewish vs. Black and Christian, Gen X vs Millennial. But Los Angeles is still Los Angeles and Hollywood is still Hollywood.

The mystery is a good puzzle. I liked that Dayna was driven but not reckless. She has a good set of friends meaning she's not a solo amateur sleuth.

The second book is Hollywood Ending (2018).

Five stars

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Honey Roasted: 03/11/22

Honey Roasted

Honey Roasted by Cleo Coyle and Rebecca Gibel (Narrator) is the nineteenth book in the Coffeehouse mystery series. While showing off the Village Blend's new batch of honey-processed coffee (which doesn't involve honey) the coffeehouse is invaded by swarming bees. Their strong smell of lavender alerts Clare to their origin, Bea Hasting's penthouse greenhouse and apiary.

The swarming bees brings Clare and Matt into the middle of an attempted murder scene. It's also a missing persons case. Where is Bea's niece Susan? Why can't she be contacted?

Meanwhile Clare and fiancé Mike Quinn are on the outs. He's swamped at work with a case involving dumped bodies and a deadly street drug. He's pulling away and their rough patch provides lots of padding for this otherwise straightforward mystery.

With the previous eighteen books as a foundation, it was pretty easy to see how all the different plot threads fit together. I even recognized the mastermind behind it all when they were first introduced. If the unnecessary relationship drama weren't there, Clare and Quinn could have put together their pieces of the larger puzzle.

Four stars

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Valley of the Moon: 03/10/22

Valley of the Moon

Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon is set in a fictional farming commune near present day Jack London State Historic Park. The novel is told from alternating points of view: Joseph Bell, the founder of Greengage Farm; and Lux, a single mother raising her son in San Francisco.

On April 18, 1906, the San Francisco Bay area was hit by a massive earthquake. At Greengage the land rolls but there is miraculously no damage. Instead there collects a thick and deadly fog. The commune residents are stuck and cut off from the rest of the world.

When Lux arrives a few months later, strangely dressed with news of things inconceivable, Joseph and the others learn their commune has become a California Brigadoon. Here, though, the time passage appears to be tens of years per month, rather than a century at a go.

Read enough of these romances across time and you'll be able to predict what will come next. Valley of the Moon for all its flowery language and attention to the details of each era, isn't revolutionary. It follows a well trod path.

With the time travel aspect, Valley of the Moon is also on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Lux, who as the novel progresses, decides to bring along her son, thus making the traveler a family (33). The destination is, naturally, uhoria (CC). The route is the cornfield/tkaronto (FF) represented by the fields of the farm, and the lakeside forest of the state park. All together, Valley of the Moon is a novel about a family traveling through time via the cornfield (33CCFF).

Four stars

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Steeple, Volume 2: The Silvery Moon: 03/09/22

Steeple, Volume 2: The Silvery Moon

Steeple, Volume 2: The Silvery Moon by John Allison is the follow up to Steeple (2020). This volume explores the repercussions of previous events.

First and foremost there's the switching of sides by Billie and Maggie. Then there is the on-going paranormal shenanigans. In the middle of all this is Mrs. Clovis trying to keep the rectory functional; the more I read, the more she reminds me of Mrs. McCarthy from Father Brown.

The big story arc this time is the transformation of Warlock Brian Fitzpatrick. It's a parody of the typical modern werewolf plot — think post Oz of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here though, he isn't transforming into a wolf or even a man wolf. Instead it's something worse and sillier.

As this series is a webcomic, the volumes in print come out once a year. I'm hoping there will be a third volume sometime next year as I'm terrible at reading webcomics.

Five stars

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Spirits and Sourdough: 03/08/22

Spirits and Sourdough

Spirits and Sourdough by Bailey Cates is the tenth book in the Magical Bakery mystery series. It's nearly Halloween / Samhain and Katie Lightfoot is preparing a spell to bring home Connell so that her husband can get his intuition back. Meanwhile, a woman who was just into the bakery has been strangled and her restless spirit won't leave a local psychic alone.

I read these book more for the murder mystery than for the magical aspects. For this volume, then, I was far more invested in the Leigh's murder and how Teddy might be able to help. For those following Connell's disappearance, he will finally be rescued in this volume, though it will be a risky affair.

The mystery itself wasn't that difficult to solve as there just aren't that many people. Because of this it has a Columbo vibe. The only difference is that Katie doesn't automatically hone in on the correct killer like the lieutenant does. Instead she gets it down to a very short list until near the end of the book. But there isn't the loads of research or driving around to meet different people like there has been in previous volumes.

Four stars

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Ghostal Living: 03/07/22

Ghostal Living

Ghostal Living by Kathleen Bridge and Vanessa Daniels (Narrator) is the third Hamptons Home & Garden mystery. Meg Barrett is busy decorating author themed rooms at the Bibliophile Bed and Breakfast in time for the first annual Sag Harbor Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair. Meanwhile after a storm an authenticator of manuscripts is murdered.

Half of the novel reminded me of Read or Alive by Nora Page (2020), specifically the book fair. There are similar shenanigans going on there. The mystery world is fraught with scams and forgeries.

But the meat and potatoes of the mystery is in the B&B and with the horrible family that is setting it up. I'm talking a toxic family dynamic. In this regard book three builds on similar themes and tropes of Hearse and Gardens (2016)

The fourth book is Manor of Dying (2019).

Four stars

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Blue-Ribbon Henry: 03/06/22

Blue-Ribbon Henry

Blue-Ribbon Henry by Mary Calhoun and Erick Ingraham (Illustrator) is the fifth of the Henry the Siamese cat picture book series. This one is set at a country fair and also features the puppy.

Like High-Wire Henry, Blue-Ribbon Henry has a rather domestic premise in comparison to earlier books. It's entirely plausible that Henry's family would take him and the dog to the fair to show them off at the small pets barn.

Henry, though, isn't impressed with the situation. There's a large fluffy cat that has him feeling inadequate. His desire to not be judged against other pets is the motivation to get the cat out and about where he can have his adventure.

As he rescued the puppy in the previous book, this time he finds and rescues a child. Henry puts to use different skills he's learned in the previous books to pull this rescue off. It's a good mix of drama and entertainment.

The sixth and final volume is Henry the Christmas Cat (2004).

Five stars

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Homicide and Halo-Halo: 03/04/22

Homicide and Halo-Halo

Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala and Danice Cabanela (Narrator) is the second book in the Tita Rosie's Kitchen mystery series. Lila Macapagal is hesitant to open her new cafe and she's distracted by being asked to judge the revamped Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, an event she won as a teen. The event, though, is plagued by threatening notes, some sabotage, and of course, a murder.

The novel opens with two useful things: a glossary of words and phrases used in the book and a list of trigger warnings. Lila is hurting from unwanted memories of her mother at the pageants when she was a teen. She's also dealing with undiagnosed PTSD from the events of Arsenic and Adobo (2021). Her emotional state informs some of her actions and can be painful to watch.

Structurally the mystery is similar to Sugar and Iced by Jenn McKinlay (2014). Both protagonists have trauma associated with pageants, though for very different reasons. There's even a dig about the appropriateness of cupcakes at a beauty pageant in this book.

A big difference in Homicide and Halo-Halo is the pageant's updated rules. First, it's open to any female identifying teen. Morality clauses are removed meaning that dating and teen motherhood are no longer excluded from participating. There is also a frank and positive discussion of polyamory, something I haven't seen before in a cozy mystery.

The third book Blackmail and Bibingka. It's scheduled for release on October 4, 2022.

Five stars

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Coached in the Act: 03/03/22

Coached in the Act

Coached in the Act by Victoria Laurie is the third of the Life Coach mysteries. This mystery takes place in the time between the initial COVID lockdowns in New York and the more recent omicron surge. Cat's business is booming even in the times of COVID, but she's worried about her friend, Gilley. His marriage seems to be on the rocks.

To give Gilley a well needed distraction, Cat takes him to the one woman show: "Twelve Angry Men." When Cat decides to skip the second act she's in the right (or wrong place) at the time to witness events leading up to a murder. Meanwhile, Yelena Galanis, is murdered during the intermission. Are the two related? If so, how?

Much of the investigation into both murders hinge on who the twelve former lovers were. The question then is, how many of them are genuine clues vs red herrings? An observant reader, though, will see through all the subterfuge to who actually committed the crime and why. Despite all that I really enjoyed this mystery. It was a nice departure after the previous two with the hitman plot.

Of recently published books I read, Coached in the Act was a departure in how the plot was built around COVID. I've seen it in some television series — NCIS and NCIS New Orleans, for example, but this was the first mystery I've read to include it.

The fourth book is Coached Red-Handed which releases June 28th, 2022.

Five stars

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February 2022 Sources: 03/02/22

Previous month's book sources

I am enjoying having more wiggle room in my reading and blogging schedule. I am still ahead of schedule for reaching 200 but behind where I should be if I were still aiming for 300.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In February I read 15 TBR books, up from January's 11 TBR. I read three books published in February. Six books were for research. None was from the library. The three new books kept my score high but not as high as the previous month. It lowered from -1.8 to -3.13. It was my second best February in all twelve years of tracking.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I over estimated my score for February, predicting -2.5. For March, I predict I'll be back down around -3.5 to -4.0.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for February improved from -2.44 to -2.50.

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The Suicide Murders: 03/01/22

The Suicide Murders

The Suicide Murders by Howard Engel is the start of the Benny Cooperman mysteries. Set in Grantham, Ontario, it's a series about a Jewish private detective.

His case should have been a simple cheating husband job. Except the husband isn't cheating and then he's dead. His death is ruled a suicide but things don't add up. Unable to let it go, Benny decides to investigate.

Benny's a lovable curmudgeon. He has an iffy relationship with his parents, but does make the effort to have dinner with them once a week. There's a hilarious scene where his mother angry makes a brisket. While that cut of meat is forgiving, I doubt it's that forgiving.

The overall structure of the mystery reminds me most of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (1990). The second mystery is The Ransom Game (1981).

Five stars

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February 2022 Summary: 03/01/22

Reading report

February was a quiet month, except I had a bunch of friends come down with COVID. These are people who so far had managed to avoid it. That's omicron for you. Now in March most places are doing away with masking mandates. My little corner of the world seems to be sticking with them.

I read more books in February, 24, up from 23 in the previous month. Of my read books, 16 were diverse. I am still primarily reviewing on days I finish a book, although I had a couple days in February where I finished two books. Last month I reviewed 22 books, which is the same for January. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. Six read and two reviewed books were queer.

I have five books remaining from 2021 and 29 of the 47 books read in 2022 to review.

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