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May 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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Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

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The Westing Game: 05/31/22

The Westing Game

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a weird middle grade mystery book that was released when I was five. It was the inspiration for The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. His book is the reason I chose to read Raskin's.

Raskin was primarily a graphic designer with a long career of designing dust jackets before she wrote The Westing Game. The ebook edition I read includes numerous designs she did for the book's dust jacket and interior illustrations.

The book begins with an empty apartment building and a number of personalized invitations. Specific people for reasons yet to be revealed are convinced to move in. The careful introduction of the cast of characters and the attention to detail in how the apartment is set up reminds me of another recent novel, Greenglass House by Kate Milford (2015).

Across the street there's an old mansion. Think the Bate's house by the Bate's motel. Except here, the murder is of the mansion's long time owner and the owner of the apartment building. The residents of the apartment building will inherit a treasure if they win the Westing Game.

How the game is set up from the making of the teams, the clues, and the stakes involved was clearly an influence to another book, or more specifically, series of books. The reading of the will and the rules of the game is very similar to The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (2008), the first of the 39 Clues books.

The dynamic between all the different residents and their ties to the dead man is the same building blocks as many an adult cozy mystery I've read. But the back stories of these characters has the wacky logic that's the mainstay of many a middle grade book.

Four stars

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The Way From Here: 05/30/22

The Way From Here

The Way From Here by Jane Cockram is an Australian novel set primarily in England and France. While the blurb mentions three generations of women, the book's focus is primarily on a pair of sisters: Suse and Mills.

Mills has set out on a journey as instructed by her recently departed sister's letters in an adult version of 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (2005). She is also recapitulating the journey Suse took many years earlier after the death of Grandma Nelle.

Mostly though it's a journey of discovery and a reconciliation across generations. Mills learns about Suse. Through Suse she learns about their mother and their grandmother and sacrifices both the women in Mill's life have had to make.

It's one of those novels where I ended up keeping my iPad nearby to make a chart of all the information that's revealed and refined as the story progresses. It's also one of the best recent examples of decoupage as narrative I've seen in a novel as information is built across timelines and generations in a seamless and satisfying fashion.

Five stars

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Discount Armageddon: 05/29/22

Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire and Emily Bauer (Narrator) is the start of the InCryptid series. Verity Price is spending a year in Manhattan to hone her cryptozoology skills. She'd like to be a professional dancer but she has to do that in secret. But she can use her dancing skills for hand to hand combat.

Verity has other problems. A man from the Covenant of St. George is studying cryptids in Manhattan to decide if there needs to be a purge. As far as Verity is concerned, a purge would be genocide. Yet, cryptids have started to disappear. He claims he's not doing it and vows to help her.

Once the novel settles on the world building and basic concepts, it settles into a paranormal mystery akin to the Dresden Files but with a much more engaging main character. Take away the paranormal and the mystery itself is one of missing people, primarily young women. Someone is kidnapping them.

The kidnapping is happening against the backdrop of there being credible information that there's a dragon under Manhattan. Here, though, is where I started giggle snorting. Of course there's a dragon! He was covered in The Dragon That Lived Under Manhattan by E.W. Hildick (1970).

There's the expected betrayals. The big fight at the end. It's all the trappings of the sort of mysteries I like but with an interesting urban fantasy setting.

The second book in the series is Midnight Blue-Light Special (2013).

Four stars

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Cajun Kiss of Death: 05/27/22

Cajun Kiss of Death

Cajun Kiss of Death by Ellen Byron is the seventh book in the Cajun Country mystery series. It's nearly Valentine's day and Pelican has to contend with a celebrity chef opening a new restaurant. It should be a good thing but he's clearly reverse engineering all the popular recipes of the smaller restaurants and then sabotaging their places to boot! No one's surprised when he ends up dead, although how he's murdered is a shock to everyone.

Meanwhile Maggie and Bo are getting ready to celebrate their first Valentines together as a married couple. Unfortunately she's got two things on her mind: she's doubting her abilities as an artist and she has a stalker who has been sending her unsettling gifts that are counting down to Valentine's day.

The mystery behind the chef's murder is the easier of the two to solve in this volume. The stalker took more time and brain cells for me to sort. Both are a satisfying puzzle.

This volume appears to be the end of the series in that it includes an epilog set twenty years in the future. This coda establishes long term HEAs for a lot of characters introduced throughout the series.

For those wanting more from the author in a bayou setting, she's starting a new series. The first book of the Vintage Cookbook mystery series is Bayou Book Thief. It's scheduled for release on June 7, 2022.

Four stars

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Claws for Suspicion: 05/26/22

Claws for Suspicion

Claws for Suspicion by Deborah Blake is the third book in the Catskills Pet Rescue mystery series. Kari Stuart feels like her new life running the animal shelter has finally settled into a comfortable routine. That feeling though is thwarted by the arrival of her ex-husband who insists that her divorce paperwork was never filed properly, meaning the two are still married. He's come to claim his half of the lottery winnings and has plans to turn the shelter into a glamping retreat.

When an ex appears with horrendous plans — plans that would end the entire mystery series, it's obvious the ex will end up dead. Given how he was described by Kari and how he acted in the few chapters he was alive, I was fairly certain how he'd die, where the crime would take place, and who would do it and why they'd do it. It took a while though to learn the identity of the who.

Let's just say this was the most accurate I've been on predicting the outcome of a cozy mystery. And the earliest! Despite all that, I absolutely loved this book. The Catskills Pet Rescue mystery series is one of my current favorites. I hope there's a fourth in the works.

Five stars

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Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 5: 05/25/22

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 5

Moriarty the Patriot, Volume 5 by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi (Illustrations) has me scratching my head and doubting my own memory. I should back up and say I've also watched the anime series which has done chapters from the manga out of order and has chosen to skip entire arcs. But I can't completely blame the anime for my confuzzled state.

Volume 5 ends the mystery on the train where Watson is accused of murder. The investigation gives the narrative a chance to show exactly which side of the line both Sherlock and the Moriarty brothers stand on. Where Sherlock goes for only evidence he can find and a timeline he can logically reconstruct, Moriarty is willing to fabricate evidence to bring down the man both men are certain did the crime.

The remainder of the book involves the series' introduction of Irene Adler. Now from the anime I know where their plot arc is going. I also know from reading spoilers online. But here's where my memory gets fuzzy. While reading Volume 5 I could have sworn Adler had already been introduced. I remembered Adler already taking on his new name.

So convinced of my obviously incorrect memory, I ended up re-reading the first four volumes before reading the Adler chapters. Yes, MI6 is set up in Volume 4 but not Adler's part of in it. My best guess is that I fell asleep while reading volume 4 and dreamt the bits that I remember. Since I knew where the series was headed my dreamt up bits were convincing, especially since I included artwork and speech bubbles, thus keeping the illusion of reading going!

Volume 6 featuring Adler on the cover was released in English translation by VIZ in January. I have it on hand and will be reading it soon.

Five stars

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11 Birthdays: 05/24/22

11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass is the start of the Willow Falls series of middle grade books. Amanda and Leo's families have been tied together by a long forgotten curse that was reactivated when the two happened to be born on the same day. Now on their 11th birthday the curse is in full swing, forcing them to relive the day.

While the blurb compares the book to Groundhog Day (1993) and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (2001), I am more reminded of Holes by Louis Sachar (1998) and the more recent One Way or Another by Kara McDowell (2020).

Although the curse affects both Amanda and Leo, the entire novel is from Amanda's point of view. If this novel were following a more typical Groundhog Day format, the path to solving Amanda and Leo's problem would be to fix the problems of those around them. While they try that in some attempts it becomes clear that fixing everyone else's problems isn't their solution. And that makes the book interesting.

Amanda and Leo's journey through the curse places this novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. As they are traveling together and are best friends with an interest in being more than just BFFs someday, they are a couple (33). As they are repeating the same day and are forced to do so because of events decades earlier, their destination is uhoria (CC). Their route is tied to their city's agrarian past, and thus is through the cornfield (FF).

The second book in the series is Finally (2010).

Five stars

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One Italian Summer: 05/23/22

One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle is a book about grief. Katy Silver has spent the last year caring for her ailing mother. They had planned to go to Italy together and now that Carol is dead, Katy decides to go by herself, leaving behind Eric, her husband whom she's not even sure she loves any more.

Katy's vacation is to Positano. It's a small seaside town up against the cliffs and the Mediterranean sea. It's also happens to have been a stopping point (or near to one) in One True Loves by Elise Bryant (2022).

Before Katy can even begin to work through her grief, she meets the most unexpected person — her mother but at age thirty. Of course they become fast friends and spend most of their free time together. Katy begins to relearn how live life and have fun with a woman who seems must less organized and way more spontaneous than the woman she knew and loved.

Vying for her attention, though, is Adam. He's everything Eric isn't. He's also willing to date her even though she's married. With Adam Katy has to make a decision: him or Eric? In this regard, One Italian Summer feels like it's at the Venn diagram union of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922) and Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella (2020).

Had Katy not run into Carol, I would have set the novel aside without finishing it. Katy's devotion to her mother and her belief in her mother's perfection got to be too much to bear. The first fifty page or so cycle through Katy grieving, Katy remembering her mother, and Katy thinking about her early romance with Eric. It's repetitive and melodramatic.

Carol's appearance also fundamentally changes where the novel sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. With Carol, the traveler becomes the family (33). The destination is uhoria in that Katy (CC) is both thinking about the past, and interacting with it. The route there is the labyrinth represented by the twisting paths Katy takes through Positano and through the trip's transformative power on Katy's outlook on life.

Four stars

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Spy x Family, Volume 1: 05/22/22

Spy x Family, Volume 1

Spy x Family, Volume 1 by Tatsuya Endo and Casey Loe (Translator) is the start of a manga series that is now part of the spring 2022 anime season. Volume 1 features a master spy, code name "Twilight" who must put together a family in order to infiltrate a private school. It's a matter of national security and could help turn the course of a long running war.

The first person the spy brings into his ersatz family is the child. He wants someone with no paper trail. That means going to a less than reputable orphanage. It's there that he finds Anya. She's a telepath and she uses her powers to learn how to convince Twilight to take her. She also learns that he's a spy and she thinks that's cool!

The next piece is a wife/mother for the complete set. The school has a ridiculous rule that they must interview both parents. There doesn't seem to be any wiggle room for single parents of any sort.

For a ridiculous internal logic that would take too long to explain here, the perfect woman for the role ends up being a hired assassin. She's as good at her job as Twilight is at his. The glue holding the together is Anya, although the two have a chemistry that reminds me of Jim and Angela from the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison.

Volume 1 covers the anime season's episodes one through five. I have volume 2 on hand and plan to continue. There are ten volumes so far, and Viz has released translated volumes up through number 7. Number 8 comes out in translation in September 2022.

Five stars

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Famous Mistakes: 05/20/22

Famous Mistakes

Famous Mistakes by Carolyn Keene is the seventeenth book in the Nancy Drew Diaries. Ned has started a podcast, NedTalks. He wants to interview comedian Brady Owens who will be performing in the new arts center. Unfortunately he's being dogged by bad publicity after a heckling response that went too far.

When Nancy and Ned go to Brady's room they find it trashed and his joke book completely destroyed. Nancy decides to help solve the mystery of who trashed the room so that the show can go on.

Meanwhile there are protests being led by a local art historian and college professor. This part of the book addresses head on the consequences of a celebrity targeting a person, even if it's done in the heat of the moment. It includes dialog of the finding the balance between protective speech vs. targeted harassment.

Now since I read a lot of mysteries and since I've been rewatching Leverage and watching Leverage: Redemption, I could see the larger game being played. The protests around Brady Owen are a distraction. For what, though, is the big mystery.

The next book is A Nancy Drew Christmas (2018)

Five stars

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I'll Go and Come Back: 05/19/22

I'll Go and Come Back

I'll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca and Sara Palacios (Illustrator) is a picture book about a girl and her grandmother. Though there is a bit of a language barrier and some cultural differences, they find ways to enjoy each other's company.

Jyoti lives in America. Her grandmother lives in India. On a trip to visit India, Jyoti feels left behind by her cousins but her grandmother calls her over. The two spend their days together, growing closer until it's time to go home.

At the midway point of the story, Jyoti shares the phrase that is the title of the book:

"Poitu variya?" asked Sita Pati. "Will you go and come?" "And I remembered that no one in India just said "Goodbye." "I'll go and come back," I said. "Poitu varen."

However, like in With Lots of Love by Jenny Torres Sanchez and Andres Ceolin (Illustrations) (2022), the second half of the picture book features the grandmother's visit to the states. Jyoti gets to share the things she loves about her home, including things like quesadillas which Sita Pati eats with chutney.

The book ends with the same exchange of goodbyes with the promise to go and come again. It's a sweet celebration of family, even when family is separated by distance, culture and language.

Five stars

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Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero: 05/17/22

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Lockhart and Manuel Preitano (Illustrator) follows Willow Zimmerman, a high school student who ends up working for Enigma to pay for her mother's cancer treatments. The book continues the recent trend in the YA graphic novels of exploring the economic disparities of Gotham city.

Willow Zimmerman loves her neighborhood and is already an activist. She works long hours at the local animal shelter to help cover living expenses. All her time goes towards helping with bills, trying to make her neighborhood a better place, and trying to save the environment.

In the background, someone is "greening" the neighborhood landmarks. Anyone familiar with DC characters will recognize Poison Ivy's work. Given recent incarnations of her, it seems odd to me that Poison Ivy would be attacking a neighborhood struggling to survive. Her usual targets are corporations and the one percent who owns them.

And then there's Enigma, who Willow and her mother know as a long time (but estranged) family friend. He's an interesting addition because he's not one of the typical characters, especially for these graphic novels. I'm not sure I've ever seen him as his alternate personality before.

That said, watching Enigma manipulate Willow was both frustrating and predictable. He gaslights her into a life of crime and sweetens the deal with the sort of pay she will never get working at the animal shelter. There's a line midway through the novel where Willow mentions getting herself and her mother onto health insurance. While she probably means that she's able to pay for it out of pocket, I'd like to believe that Enigma is ethical enough to offer health insurance to his employees because it would make him a more interesting villain.

Finally, Whisper is one of the unusual graphic novels from this series because it shows Willow getting her superpowers (the ability to communicate with a particular dog and to call other dogs). She gets these powers about two-thirds of the way through, leaving the final third of the novel to explore how Willow tries to find a balance between her new calling (being a hero) and the lure of Enigma's financial support.

Five stars

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This Old Homicide: 05/16/22

This Old Homicide

This Old Homicide by Kate Carlisle is the second book in the Fixer-Upper mystery series. Shannon Hammer finds her elderly neighbor dead in his home after it has obviously been ransacked. Rumor has it he had found treasure off the coast and now Shannon believes that's why he was killed.

When the treasure is found but not made public, someone continues to break into Jesse Hennessey's house. Shannon wants to protect his treasure, his house, and his daughter, while still managing to restore the homes she's been contracted to work on.

Like in her Bibliophile mystery series, Kate Carlisle takes liberties with the North Bay geography. As someone who lives close enough to know the area, I find these changes to be an unwanted distraction at times. The almost familiar, thus uncanny, landscape, makes this series read like a Murder She Wrote episode, where Fort Bragg was used as a stand-in for Cabot Cove, Maine.

Thinking, though, like Jessica Fletcher, is what it takes to solve this mystery. There's a wide cast of characters. The central question is who knew Jesse found the treasure and who has access to his home by unconventional means?

The third book is Crowned and Moldering (2015).

Four stars

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The View from the Very Best House in Town: 05/15/22

The View from the Very Best House in Town

The View from the Very Best House in Town by Meera Trehan is a tale of two friends separated by circumstances and a mansion wanting to be a home. It's told in three alternating points of view: Sam's, Asha's, and Donnybrook's.

Asha and Sam have been friends for most of their lives. Both are autistic and compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses. But now Sam will be going to the elite private school, leaving Asha behind at the public school. Sam loves space and planetariums. Asha loves architecture, especially the mansion behind her home — Donnybrook.

Were it just Asha and Sam's points of view, this novel would have been a predictable but heartfelt exploration of friendship, bullying, and being autistic. But there's a third, very unusual POV: Donnybrook's.

Donnybrook is the mega-mansion, aptly described by Asha's older brother as a frankenmansion. It was designed by the Donaldson's and primarily on the whims of Mrs. Donaldson. It has a turret room with a window in the roof, a dubious spiral staircase, windows of every shape and size, and columns from various eras. It also, at least at the start of book, has an ego as massive as its floor plan.

But over the course of the Sam's year at the private school we see cracks appear in the Donaldson's family life. We see why their daughter is the bully she is. We learn why Asha and now Sam aren't allowed at the home. We also see a gradual but steady humbling of Donnybrook.

This novel also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. As the three narrators all lack agency to one degree or another, they are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is home (66). For Asha and Sam, it's Donnybrook and for Donnybrook, it's the transformation into a home. Their route is the labyrinth (99) as represented by the broken spiral staircase.

Four stars

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The Good Luck Girls: 05/13/22

The Good Luck Girls

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction. Five good luck girls flee their welcome house after a wealthy brag is killed in self defense. Hope lies to the north if the stories can be believed.

The overall setting though is a western, much in the same vein as Firefly. But there are also curses, missing shadows, and demon-like creatures that patrol the roads.

Much of the atmosphere of this book — and the world building — is done through word play. Davis uses commonplace words in new ways. Context makes their new meanings obvious, giving an instant flavor that is different by recognizable. The otherness is created through familiarity set askew.

Ultimately the novel is a quest for freedom. It's a path that brings to mind the Underground Railroad or its equivalent as described in Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez (2020). Here, though, there is no help along the way. There are the stories but one has to get to the goal unaided.

The ambiguous ending also brings to mind a middle grade novel I read a two years ago, Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Here too is a land ravaged by corruption with a fairytale that promises a better life to those who can decipher the stories.

Like Crosshairs and Mañanaland, The Good Luck Girls sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The Good Luck girls, branded and pursued, are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is a fabled placed in the wild lands (99). Their route their though is the Blue Highway (33) as represented by the roads they follow.

The sequel is The Sisters of Reckoning (2021).

Five stars

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Vanilla Beaned: 05/12/22

Vanilla Beaned

Vanilla Beaned by Jenn McKinlay is the eighth book in the Cupcake Bakery mystery series. I swear the only thing keeping me reading this series is the acting chops of Susan Boyce. If I were reading this series in print, I probably would have stopped by now.

Mel has finally given in to the idea of franchising Fairy Tale Cupcakes. Tate has found a potential franchisee in Las Vegas, so the Mel, Angie and Tate are on their way there. But from the very get go, their attempts to franchise the business are met with disastrous accidents.

Mel and Angie end up becoming best buddies with their franchisee, a show girl who wants out of the business. Holly Hartzmark might not have a formal background in baking but she has real world experience from a family shop. She's done her homework and her cupcakes are as good as Mel's. If only she can sign the paperwork on the franchise and on a location for her future shop!

Coming on the heals of two mob themed volumes, the continued hook is that the mob boss who now on trial is somehow orchestrating the accidents in Las Vegas. With him somehow vaguely a threat, the melodrama that is Mel's romantic life is dragged out further. I am so entirely sick of Mel's love life.

If, like me, you're bored with the mob, and thus not pulled into the "what if it's the mob?" question, the actual mystery is frankly pretty obvious. There's really not much mystery here beyond all the stage dressing and mob themed subterfuge.

The ninth book is Caramel Crush (2017).

Three stars

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Crimes and Covers: 05/11/22

Crimes and Covers

Crimes and Covers by Amanda Flower is the fifth book in the Magical Bookshop mystery series. It opens in the final run up to Violet and David's wedding. The upcoming nuptials are marred by a woman desperate to sell a vintage, mint condition, signed first edition of Walden. Then between the wedding and the reception, she's found drowned in the icy river and the book is missing.

The bulk of the book's mystery is based around finding the book. The woman's death is ruled an accident but the book if genuine would be quite valuable. More importantly there's a woman who claims ownership of it and her story is backed up by a number of other people.

There are clues midway through the novel about the state of the book after the woman's death that make its location obvious if you stop and think about it for a moment. Keeping that in mind, the later crimes (there are two more in escalating violence) take on a different context.

Put a different way, the Walden is a bit of a Mac Duffin. It is the inciting object for a lot of horrendous behavior. If you can mentally play who's got the potato you'll figure out who has done what to whom.

As this mystery is taking place after a wedding, this is the first time the two sleuths are working together as a married couple. In this regard I was reminded of another mystery I read this year, The Mystery of Albert E. Finch by Callie Hutton (2022). The big difference, though, is that Violet and David remained focused on the task at hand and were much more mature about having to reschedule their honeymoon.

Five stars

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The Promised Neverland Volume 1: 05/10/22

The Promised Neverland Volume 1

The Promised Neverland Volume 1 by Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu (Illustrator), and Luise Steggewentz (Translator) is the first volume in a twenty volume manga series. I've seen the anime and I'm aware of the changes made, especially in the second season. I wasn't expecting to read the manga but my husband brought home the first two volumes from Zurich, translated into German, of course.

The manga opens with an idyllic looking farm house with children playing and doing chores and being doted on by Mama. A few more scenes reveals that this is an orphanage and everyone is excited for one of the young girls who has been adopted.

When she leaves behind her favorite bunny the truth is revealed. It's not an orphanage; it's a farm. Although frankly, anyone who knows something about barn architecture will recognize that the house's roofline is similar to a dairy barn.

The remainder of the first book is the three geniuses: Emma, Ray, and Norman planning the grand escape. First question is, can it be done? What route? And then the larger question: how can the smallest children be included?

Except for the monster that Emma sees when trying to return the bunny — the inciting incident if you will — the anime takes its time establishing the nature of the world in which the children are being raised. The pacing here is faster and the glimpses behind the metaphorical curtain come sooner and more frequently. While I wasn't sure I'd enjoy the manga (having felt only lukewarm about the anime, even before the weird second season), I did. Some of the entertainment is in how the translator used different German tenses to render personalities.

Of course the youngest of the children speak simplistic German. Mama speaks in a doting, straightforward, almost baby talk way until she's quietly letting the three geniuses know she's on to them. Meanwhile, Ray, Norman, and Emma each have their favorite tenses. Ray tends to be declarative: he's all action. Norman goes for longwinded, complex sentences that are at the advanced end of German grammar. Emma tends to be short and to the point but will fall into the subjunctive when she's in denial about the situation. She also, more than the boys, falls into a childish way of speaking. Some of that though is reflected in her time caring for the younger children.

I currently have volumes 2 through 4 on hand, also in German. I don't know yet if I will read all twenty volumes in either German or English.

Four stars

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Smells Like Treasure: 05/09/22

Smells Like Treasure

Smells Like Treasure by Suzanne Selfors is the second book in the Smells Like Dog trilogy. While I've been better about reading and reviewing series books in order, this book is a throwback to my earlier blogging days.

In this second book Homer has just gotten Dog. He knows the dog only has one talent, smelling treasure. But what's the son of a goat farmer going to do with such a dog? Especially when the county fair is up and running!

A bad fortune, though, sets Homer onto a journey of a lifetime and one that could finally prove once and for all that he should have his grandfather's spot in the treasure hunting society. He, though, is up against his rival again.

Ultimately this novel becomes something like a two kid, two pet, two adult homage to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) with a final destination that's akin to the island in The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène Du Bois (1947).

Readers who enjoy this series and want something more, I recommend the Winterhouse trilogy by Ben Guterson.

Five stars

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Green Arrow: Stranded: 05/08/22

Green Arrow: Stranded

Green Arrow: Stranded by Brendan Deneen and Caleb Hosalla (Illustrations) is another version of the plane crash, island survival backstory that is the start of Oliver Queen's transformation into the Green Arrow. In this version he's still a teen and is on board with his father, another teen, and that teen's father.

Arrow the TV series ran from 2012-2020. I watched the first three or four seasons but gave up when the series couldn't let go of Oliver's time on the island. The Batman stories / movies / TV shows also tend to get hung up on Bruce Wayne's tragic backstory but that particular TV series took things to extremes.

Now seeing a standalone YA comic I have to wonder if any Green Arrow story can be told sans island and plane crash. Yet, you'll notice that despite my grumbling I've rated this particular version five stars.

Despite rehashing the same old series of events there are a few key important changes. The first is, Oliver is younger and isn't portrayed like the spoiled rich man-boy he is in the first season of Arrow. Second, it's a significantly shorter story, heavy on illustration and light on text or dialogue. Finally, the inclusion of adults and a known rival, all who are struggling to survive minus the den of bad guys also on the island, changes and narrows the focus.

Five stars

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Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: Rise of the Batmen: 05/06/22

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: Rise of the Batmen

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: Rise of the Batmen by James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows (Artist), et. al. is the start of the relaunched Detective Comics. After reading volume 16, Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 1: The Neighborhood by Mariko Tamaki (2022), I was curious to see how the series started.

In this volume, Batman realizes he and his cohorts have been under surveillance by bat themed drones for quite some time. Realizing things are coming to a head, he brings together the current set of Gotham vigilantes to work on a unified plan to stop whomever is behind it.

This comic is my first encounter with Batwoman, although I am aware of her story and relationship to Batman. A lot of this book's backstory takes the Kane family's side to do the typical Batman origin story. Of course it also is Batwoman's origin story, though coming from a different emotional starting point.

With the emphasis on the past and on family dynamics, the ultimate betrayal is rather obvious. It also explains the title, which isn't the rise of Batman's cohorts. The Batmen in the title are the force they are going against to save Gotham.

The second volume is Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 2: The Victim Syndicate (2017).

Four stars

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The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken: 05/05/22

The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken

The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken by Doreen Cronin and Kevin Cornell (Illustrations) is the second of the Chicken Squad books. This time the chickens have a client who wants them to find his missing house.

The first bit of fun is figuring out who the "weird blue chicken" is. For most American readers, the bird will be a familiar one. For west coast readers, it won't be. Our weird blue chickens are scrubbier.

The second fun bit is figuring out where the missing birdhouse is and gasp! where the missing chicken sibling has gone. Book two doesn't rely as heavily on reader knowledge to solve the mystery. This time the reader is brought along as the Chicken Squad does some actual recognizance.

The third book is Into the Wild (2016).

Four stars

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My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 1: 05/03/22

My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 1

My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 1 by Shinichi Fukuda is the start of a manga (recently also an anime) about the friendship between two high schoolers. Wakana Gojou lives with his grandfather and sews clothes for the hina doll shop they run. Marin Kitagawa, a part time model, loves to cosplay but doesn't have the skills to make her own costumes.

A chance meeting in a rarely used home EC classroom cements their friendship. Wakana after rather rudely critiquing Marin's first attempt at a costume makes up for his gaff by agreeing to make the outfit for her. Karin will pay for the supplies and he'll provide the labor.

I'm not a cosplayer. Like Marin, I don't know how to use a sewing machine. What makes this book work for me is the friendship between the two. Marin always stands up for Wakana's right to be interested in things, even if some might perceive them as being girlie. She stands up for anyone, not just him. It is who she is, through and through.

I also like that there's a chemistry between the two but the friendship over the cosplay isn't a means to an end. Yes, both do find themselves interested and embarrassed at awkward times but when it comes to the goal of a successful cosplay for Karin, both are one hundred percent committed.

I have the second volume on hand and will read it soon.

Four stars

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Peter and Wendy: 05/02/22

Peter and Wendy

Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie was published in 1911. In later editions the novel was published with the title, Peter Pan. In recent years the novel has inspired numerous retellings and pastiches, and I've reviewed a bunch of them.

My husband, caught up in my reading all these other books decided to re-read the source material. His observations of the book made it sound like nothing I remembered reading. Although I regularly re-read the novel as a child, the last time I read it was in 1988. Thirty-three years and a teenager's understanding of the book have left me remembering a very different kind of story.

The volume I read this time was an ebook transcript from Project Gutenberg. But the publisher who then decided to offer it up via Apple Books decided to include some added edits, mostly in the form of bracketed definitions of certain words.

Besides the weird definitions peppered throughout the book, I found there were scenes missing and scenes that I didn't remember. My overall impression was the the book was blunter and more violent than I recalled. That said, I could see now where the numerous dark interpretations I've read in the last year or so.

Curious if the scenes I misremembered were in the Peter Pan editions, I cracked open a Puffin Chalk edition from 2013. The bracketed bits were missing but the scenes I recalled were there. In particular there's a scene where Captain Hook and the pirates decide to keep Wendy:

We will seize the children and carry them to the boat: the boys we will make walk the plank, and Wendy shall be our mother. (p. 105)

Of course with a print version in hand, I was then able to find the same text in the ebook. Somehow in my re-read, even though I thought I was being careful, I completely skimmed over it!

What this experience tells me is that my confusion this time is completely on me and my hazy memory and teenage understanding of the novel vs my adult understanding. I find this revelation to be ironically on pointe.

One thing that hasn't changed over time, though, is the novel's placement on the road narrative spectrum. The travelers are still siblings (CC). They are still going to utopia (FF). The route there is still off-road (66).

Three stars

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April 2022 Sources: 05/02/22

Previous month's book sources

I had a good month of reading in April. I'm about a month ahead of my lowered 200 book goal for the year.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In March I read 17 TBR books, down from March's 29 TBR. I read one book published in April. Four books were for research. Two were from the library. The one new book didn't affect my score much. It rose slightly from -4.2 to -3.96. It was my second best April in all thirteen years of tracking.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I was off by a bit for my April prediction, -3.96 vs -4.4. I predict a -4.0 for May.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for April improved from -2.50 to -2.61.

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Put Out to Pasture: 05/01/22

Put Out to Pasture

Put Out to Pasture by Amanda Flower and Rachel Dulude (narrator) is the second Farm to Table mystery. Shiloh is hosting a Fall Daze festival at Bellamy Farm. At the end of the day the local beekeeper's body is found by a scarecrow. She was strangled with Kristy's favorite scarf, making her the prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Shiloh has a new neighbor, a man who has bought the other half of the family farm. He has the same goals as Kristy: to farm organic and to have a cherry orchard. Is he a potential ally or a threat to her plans?

The mystery itself brings to light a shady past for Minnie. A lot of her misdeeds seem to be there to justify her murder. It also opens up for a cast of unknown people with motive to kill her.

Because I read dozens of mysteries every year, I recognized that this book was following in a trend that started about three years ago. When a certain character was first introduced I fingered them for the murderer. The why exactly ended up being the big question for me. Of course in the meantime there are plenty of other plausible red herrings for Shiloh to investigate.

As of writing this review there's no announced third book. I'm hoping there is a new one down the line. I will certainly continue reading if more are written.

Four stars

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April 2022 Summary: 05/01/22

Reading report

April was as normal as it's possible to be in this COVID reality. Masking is being made optional but rates are going back up.

I read fewer books in April, 24, down from 25 in the previous month. Of my read books, twelve were diverse. I am still only reviewing books on the days I finish one. Last month I reviewed 24 books, which is down from the previous month's 26. On the reviews front, seventeen qualified. None read (unfortunately!) and eight reviewed books were queer.

I have thirty-seven left of the 101 books I've read this year.

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