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June 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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The Wedding Crasher: 06/30/22

The Wedding Crasher

The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa opens with Solange helping her wedding planner cousin. She happens to overhear the bride and one of the groomsmen confessing their love. So when it comes to the question calling for objections to the union, she speaks up and the wedding is called off.

That should be the end of things except the groom, Dean, needs a date to help woo potential clients to the law firm. He's hoping if this goes well, he'll finally make partner. Who better to call to be a fake date than Solange?

At the initial set up, the book had a Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao (2020) vibe. The two have to learn about each other and pull it off for these high stakes potential clients. The initial situations are cute, believable, and full of sexual tension.

I started questioning the narrative cohesiveness of the novel during the sex party scene. Although Solange claims to have been to one before, while Dean has not, she doesn't recognize it for what it is until her understanding what it is serves to force a reaction out of Dean. The scene comes at nearly the halfway point and by then we should know what sort of intimacy the characters expect, want, and have experience with.

From the sex party onward, it's clear that the novel isn't going to be much more than just a string of situations. Instead of being a rom-com, it's more of a sit-com with some promised romance.

Three stars

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No Country for Old Gnomes: 06/29/22

No Country for Old Gnomes

No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is for me a stark reminder that I should avoid purchasing books on whims. This volume was my last impulse by when I was unexpectedly in a Barnes & Nobles. It's the second book in the Tales of Pell series. Realizing that when I got home led to my rather lackluster read of Kill the Farm Boy (2018). That one faired better at two stars.

This one opens first with your typical witches from Macbeth via the Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (1988) and then in a brief promising scene involves gnomes fleeing their home as it's being firebombed by halflings.

Unfortunately like those early Pratchett's, this book goes from scene to scene, adding more characters until finally landing on Pell's new king. When the goat is offhandedly compared to Moist van Lipwig (see Going Postal, also by Pratchett (2004), I realized this book and I were doomed to come to any sort of cordial agreement.

I could either waste my time reading this excruciatingly bad attempt at the same humor of the Discworld books or I could just go back and re-read my collection of Pratchett books. It was an easy decision to make.

One star

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Death by Beach Read: 06/28/22

Death by Beach Read

Death by Beach Read by Eva Gates and Elise Arsenault (narrator) is the ninth book in the Lighthouse Library mystery series. Now that Lucy is engaged to Connor she's moved out of her lighthouse aerie to an unpainted aristocracy house just outside of the center of town. Unfortunately it has a shady past and before they can even finish the work on it, a man is murdered inside their pantry!

This series uses the Bodie Island book club selection as a thematic counterpoint to the mystery at hand. In this volume it's Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851). While the book club is primarily aimed at older adults in the town, one mother does bring along her teenage daughter. Lucy makes an aside that the book probably won't interest teenage readers but I can recall pulling an all nighter to read it in junior high. It was one of the books that cemented my life long love of Hawthorne's books. It's also made me realize it's been far too long since I read that book and I plan to reread it soon.

With such a Gothic piece as the cornerstone of this mystery, the present day mystery is shrouded in a similar atmosphere. Lucy and Connor's home has a sordid history, including an incident from the 1970s (and now I feel old!) where a then teenage girl was driving from the home and into a life of isolation because of prank she believed (and still does) was her grandfather haunting her the one time she chose to have a boy over, contrary to her strict upbringing.

In the present day, Lucy is also experiencing uninvited guests and visions of faces staring in on her from the outside. The question then is, how many of these are actual people coming by to scare her and how many are her imagination. At no point does she consider a paranormal option, even though her coworker would like her to. I figured the ghostly aspect could have gone either way, given The Spook in the Stacks (2018).

Despite the murderer being blatant in a few places, I didn't catch onto who had done it until after Lucy had. I was frankly too involved in Jo's backstory from the 1970s and the general Gothic overtones of the novel to concern myself with the present day clues. None the less I thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

Five stars

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The Game of X: 06/25/22

The Game of X

The Game of X by Robert Sheckley is about an American looking to extend his visa in France and ends up becoming an international spy in the process. It's also one of those books that you might never guess was adapted into a film because it's so very different from the resulting movie.

William P. Nye has tried everything he can think of to land a job he can stick to while in France. His money is running out, as has his visa. Soon he's going to be a penniless illegal. That's when his friend George who works for the CIA offers him a job he can't refuse: become the mysterious Mr. X and meet a man who has important intel from the Iron Curtain.

The meeting goes as planned. William has fun. He thinks that's it until the man he met wants to defect. But he'll only do it if Mr. X helps him do it). The plan ultimately involves shenanigans in Venice and the Italian alps. And if you're a Gen X person, you might now be making a squinty face and thinking, "hey that plot sounds familiar!"

Enter Walt Disney Productions. If you've seen more than one Disney live action film you know they very rarely make a straight up adaptation of a property the option. Disney writes things by committee, working through gags to mark the timing of scenes in films, rather than trying to translate something faithfully from one medium to another.

So a historical fantasy about a man cursed to become a dog, aka The Hound of Florence (1923) becomes The Shaggy Dog (1959). This time, an amateur spy trying to help a man defect via a confusing trip to Venice, becomes Condorman (1981).

In the Disney version, a successful comic book author living in Paris is roped in by his CIA friend to help with the two missions I've described. But there's also a pretty woman involved to give him a love interest and his name has been changed to Woody.

Nearly all the vehicles and get rendezvous / getaway plans from the novel are in the film — if you squint. But everything has been redone to be Condorman themed and the airplane near the end of film becomes a Romani caravan / Condormobile in the same vein as the Batmobile.

Now the question that flows naturally from this revelation: which is better? The book or the film? Honestly in this case, the two are so very different, I'm not sure. Plus I'm running up against childhood nostalgia. As stupid as the film is, I like it. Robert Sheckley's novella is just as stupid, just differently so. It's just a fun as what it became at Disney's hands.

Five stars

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Nettle & Bone: 06/24/22

Nettle & Bone

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is a standalone fantasy about a sister on a quest to kill her abusive brother in law. That he's a prince and she's princess living as a nun is a huge impediment. But Marra's good at doing impossible things, just ask the Dust-Wife.

When you're done reading the book, take a moment to read the afterword. In it the author explains how the initial seeds of this novel sprung into her head. The beauty of this book is it's not building on known fantasy character types or tropes. The environment, though, is familiar if you've read other T. Kingfisher novels. It's not, though, as far as I can tell, part of the world of her White Rat books.

Yet, I can't help but head-canon that Marra's world is in the distant past of the White Rat books. The final leg of Marra's quest takes her and her companions through a complex set of catacombs. With the wards, curses, and tricky architecture, I can't help but connect it to the labyrinth that features so heavily in Paladin's Hope (2021).

One delightful addition to this novel, and one I hope happens again in a future novel, comes in the form of a demon possessed hen and a cursed chick. The hen, property / familiar of the Dust-Wife, brings delightful and sometimes uncanny commentary on the situation at hand. Like Bill in Ozma of Oz, this unnamed hen, ends up being the big damn hero of the novel. When questing underground, always have a hen on hand!

Like every other T. Kingfisher novel I've read, this one sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. As Marra is a princess (albeit living as a nun), she is a privileged traveler (00). So are her companions as they all have specialized skills making them invaluable to the quest. Their destination is uhoria (CC), in that ultimately to solve the problem in the present they need to unravel things done in the distant past. Finally, their route is the cornfield (FF) because the first step Marra makes to a successful end involves crossing through a tkaronto en route to a goblin market.

Five stars

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Rise of the Jumbies: 06/23/22

Rise of the Jumbies

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is the second book in the Jumbies series. Corinne LaMer defeated Severine the jumbie and has gone back to a relatively normal life, despite having learned that her mother was also a jumbie. But everything changes after a tsunami.

After the island is besieged by the tsunami, children start disappearing. They're last seen near sources of water. Fingers point to Corinne.

Corinne and two of her friends decide to find the missing children, even if that means going to Mama D'Leau for help. Following her instructions, they end up on a quest that takes them to the other side of the world.

This second volume draws on the lore that drowned slaves became merfolk. The how and why for this book is a very personal one tied directly into the theme of family: made and found.

The novel has three distinct parts: the disappearing children, the journey, and the final confrontation. The third act, though, doesn't flow as naturally as the first two. It takes a while to gear up before Corinne realizes what she has to do to save her island. While what it entails involves the potential for great personal sacrifice the emotional hits didn't strike as hard as similar ones in the second act.

I suspect, though, that if I were in the intended age range of this book's audience, the emotional hits would have had exactly the opposite effects. If I were still in upper elementary to middle school ages, I would probably have been baffled by the emotional anguish the mermaids feel as they help the children reach their destination. But the later threat to Corinne's own home and family life would have left me bawling.

The third book is The Jumbie God's Revenge (2019).

Four stars

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Strangled Eggs and Ham: 06/22/22

Strangled Eggs and Ham

Strangled Eggs and Ham by Maddie Day and Laural Merlington (Narrator) is the sixth volume in the Country Store mystery series. An unscrupulous developer wants to put in a massive luxury resort in the picturesque hills of South Lick. Sure it would bring in jobs but the effects to the environment and traffic could be catastrophic. Then to make things worse one of the most vocal protestors is murdered at the proposed development site.

Unfortunately for Robbie, the murder victim was one of her B&B guests. Now she's facing the possibility of more negative publicity just when her business is taking off. Can she solve the murder before she starts losing business?

I've had a run recently where the murderer is obvious to me from the very get go. Strangled Eggs and Ham is another one of those books. The bulk of this book is built from the protest and legal pushback to stop the development. With the focus being on city hall's part in the development (or in stopping it), I'm reminded of a book I read last year, Farm to Trouble by Amanda Flower (2021).

The next book in the series is Nacho Average Murder (2020)

Four stars

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Three Tainted Teas: 06/21/22

Three Tainted Teas

Three Tainted Teas by Lynn Cahoon and Angie Hickman (Narrator) is the third full length mystery in the Kitchen Witch series. Mia has been roped into be the planner at the last minute for a high stakes/high profile wedding. Before Mia can get the contract and other paperwork from the fired planner, the planner is murdered.

Usually I can see the connection between the title and the mystery. This time I can't. There's no tea and nothing tainted. Though there is magic and curses galore, the actual murder is much more plebeian.

This is one of those mysteries where I wish the main character, or any of the others, were more observant. The obvious person is mentioned early and often. This particular person isn't exactly subtle with their actions and yet Mia and the others don't put two and two together until it's almost too late.

Four stars

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Spy x Family, Volume 2: 06/20/22

Spy x Family, Volume 1

Spy x Family, Volume 2 by Tatsuya Endo and Casey Loe (Translator) covers the early days of Anya at school. It also introduces some hiccups to Loid's (Twilight) marriage to Yor.

Under extreme pressure to befriend the most powerful boy in her homeroom and to become an elite student, Anya's first week is pure hell. The only saving grace is the fighting skills she's learned from her adoptive mother. Some of the best scenes in this volumes stem from her interpretation of those lessons.

The secondary plot, though, spoiled the fun of Anya's first days at school. It involves Yor's brother learning about his sister's marriage. With the backdated paperwork he's naturally shocked to learn that she's apparently been married for a year. He decides to go see Yor and meet her husband.

There's just one huge elephant in this manga. Yor's brother is clearly this world's version of a Nazi. Just as I don't like torture as humorous, I don't like this manga's awkward attempts at balancing little brother / big sister humor against him being a Nazi.

I have volume 3, (released in 2020), on hand and will give this series one more go to see what they do with the Nazi brother.

Four stars

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Valentine Murder: 06/18/22

Valentine Murder

Valentine Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) is the fifth Lucy Stone mystery. Valentine's day is approaching and Lucy is now on the library board. Before the meeting is even started, the library director is found dead at the bottom of the stairs, a bullet through her head.

The Lucy Stone mysteries are unusual for the series I read in that they seem to take place in real time. Many mystery series have a three to six month gap between murders, meaning that as the years pass between volumes, the mysteries end up happening in a blended time of the past and the present (if anachronistic details are tossed in). Some authors like Sue Grafton, prided themselves on maintaining a strict timeline despite the lag. Others, like Elizabeth Peters had fun keeping things in the now-now for their present day series.

Three years have passed between book three, Trick or Treat Murder (1996) and Valentine Murder (1999). The newborn baby is now in preschool. Her oldest siblings are in high school.

Another important detail: Mistletoe Murder aka Mail-Order Murder had Lucy working at a mail order center in the pre-internet days (1991). Now eight years later her children are addicted to the internet and Lucy is having to learn how to work a computer. She's still free lancing for the newspaper, but how work is done there is adapting with the advent of the internet and readily available email.

One more notable change is the series' shift from the books being thrillers to being cozies. Volume 5 is the first recognizably cozy. Thus there are different tropes and pacing at play here.

The mystery of who killed Bitsy Howell is similar to A Midwinter's Tail by Sofie Kelly (2014). Both murders take place in essentially locked rooms with a limited number of suspects. As it's a board meeting, there are even fewer possible murderers. Yet both books take their time padding the plot with extraneous investigation on the assumption that it was done by an outsider. Both though ultimately hinge on what did the victim know about the murderer to lead to such a desperate act?

The sixth book is Christmas Cookie Murder (1999).

Four stars

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The Legend of the Dream Giants: 06/17/22

The Legend of the Dream Giants

The Legend of the Dream Giants by Dustin Hansen is a hybrid middle grade fantasy/graphic novel. Berg is a young giant, on his own, and in search for a safe home and a friend. He finds one in the form of a young human girl but the cost might be too great.

Aesthetically The Legend of the Dream Giants is beautifully designed. From the choices of typeface, to the binding, cover art, page layout. It's simply gorgeous. Looking at it, one expects to be carried away into a magical world for a few hours.

But Berg's story is a weird and unsettling one. The text of Berg's search for a home and a friend while lyrical in places is almost entirely contained in Berg's head. Mostly the text is divided between long descriptive passages of Berg's surroundings or blocks of internal monolog where the young giant mulls over things.

There's not much in the way of action save for a few interactions late in the book with humans. The antagonist is only revealed in the third act. His power over Berg is of a similar cruelty to that of Madame Medusa to Penny in The Rescuers (1977) except that Berg has agency by his sheer size. He's also more aware of his options and choses a cage and an abuser over looking for another more welcoming town.

What kept me reading was the hope that the wordless graphic novel that's included sporadically through the novel would eventually tie back to Berg's story. This story involves two bears, who appear to be physical manifestations of Ursula Major and Minor. Ursula Minor has a number of run-ins with a pack of wolves. Each new encounter puts Minor and Major, when she comes to the rescue, in greater danger.

While Berg does mention having dreams of magical blue stars and does end up encountering magical blue star powder, how the comic and the text relate are mostly left up to interpretation. I found the open-ended nature of this relationship unsatisfying.

Three stars

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Mycroft and Sherlock: 06/16/22

Mycroft and Sherlock

Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse involves a series of murders of Chinese people in one of the poorest neighborhoods in London. When one of Cyrus Douglas's young charges ends up dying in a similar manner, Douglas and the brothers Holmes work together to identify the murderer and their motive.

Like so many of the Sherlock Holmes pastiches, this second volume draws on familiar details from the canon. This one, though, seems to have drawn not from the original source, so much as from a popular modern reinterpretation, namely Sherlock. In particular, "The Blind Banker" (series 1, episode 2).

But this homage to an homage is recontextualized against the Opium War. The opium clues are so blatant that it was hard for me to fathom how not one, not even two, but three described attentive geniuses could fail to piece together things. Granted, I have years of reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries (and other mysteries) as well as twenty-twenty hindsight on history but still, these three are supposed to be the cream of the sleuthing crop.

One interesting side plot, though, went on to explain why in the canon, Mycroft doesn't galavant with his younger brother. The authors give him a chronic health condition to deal with that will keep him from any future athletic escapades. Again, though, his situation is brought on by his own hubris.

The third book is The Empty Birdcage (2019)

Three stars

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A Midwinter's Tail: 06/15/22

A Midwinter's Tail

A Midwinter's Tail by Sofie Kelly and Cassandra Campbell (Narrator) is the sixth book in the Magical Cats mystery series. During the winter holiday season Kathleen is hosting a library fundraiser for her Reading Buddies program. Unfortunately the estranged wife of Burtis Chapman ends of dead after eating one of the luxury chocolates given out at the event.

The big mystery is a two parter. Why did Chapman's wife return after being away for years? Given that she was gone for so long, who here could even have ties to her besides Burtis? When and how were the chocolates tainted?

Frankly though, the murderer is obvious from the get go. The dying woman even names her killer and the reason why. The observant reader will note this. But there's still the larger question as to why? What is the connection between the killer and the victim?

Hercules and Owen play a much smaller role in this one. Yes they still get into some trouble that of helps point Kathleen in the right direction but they aren't the tag along sleuths of the earliest volumes. Frankly it was nice having them more in the background.

The seventh book is Faux Paw (2015).

Five stars

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Broadway Bird: 06/14/22

Broadway Bird

Broadway Bird by Alex Timbers and Alisa Coburn (Illustrations) is about a parakeet with huge aspirations. She loves to sing. She loves Broadway theater. She wants to be a part of it! If only she can land that audition.

Louisa auditions for Guys and Dogs. But she's a small green bird. The director just can't see beyond her form. How will a bird fit into a play about dogs and gambling?

As a side note, I found myself giggling at the reference to Guys and Dolls. It was the second one in the books I have recently read. The other one was a cozy mystery, Faux Paw by Sofie Kelly (2015) where one of her informants has self styled himself after Big Jule.

This picture book, though, isn't about landing a specific role. Instead it's about perseverance, practice, and a belief in one's abilities. By the end of the book she's had her chance on stage after working her way there.

Louisa's Broadway world is colorfully illustrated by Alisa Coburn. The colors on and off the stage are vibrant and inviting. Despite being populated with animals instead of people, the sites are recognizable. She's also a book cover artist and did the lovely cover of Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn (2019) as well as the inside illustrations.

Five stars

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Heartstopper: Volume One: 06/13/22

Heartstopper: Volume One

Heartstopper: Volume One by Alice Oseman is the webcomic in print. Originally it was printed through a Kickstarter campaign and later republished by Hodder Children's books in the UK and Graphix in the United States.

Charlie is a year ten student at an all boys school. He's openly gay but in an awkward relationship with a boy who also has a girl friend. Nick is the softie on the rugby team. The two meet when they're sat next to each other in a class and Nick's fountain pen explodes all over his hands.

There's chemistry and more importantly, friendship, from the get-go. Soon they're finding all sorts of reasons to hang out. Charlie joins the rugby team. Charlie's friends begin to worry that he's going to get hurt again.

This first volume is mostly about introducing characters. If you've seen the Netflix adaptation there are characters, mostly family members, that were cut from the show. Charlie has a younger brother, for instance, who adds to the chaos of his home life.

There's also time to set up the world and build up the tension. Everything comes to a head at the end of the volume, leaving things uneasy and unresolved to start off volume 2.

Mostly, though, this is a sweet, funny, realistic high school romance. It's like the Georgia Nicholson series but with Charlie replacing Georgia.

The second volume was released in 2019.

Five stars

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Murder at the Mansion: 06/11/22

Murder at the Mansion

Murder at the Mansion by Sheila Connolly and Emily Durante (Narrator) is the start of the Victoria Village mystery trilogy. Katherine Hamilton had escaped Ashboro Maryland to work in Baltimore, with a great job at a high-end boutique hotel. Then out of the blue she's called home by an old friend to help with a mansion that could make or break the town.

The Barton Mansion at the edge of town has sat in limbo for about a century. Now Katherine's old bully has convinced the town to spend the last of their money to buy the mansion. Katherine's job is to help them figure out how to convert that white elephant into something that will earn money for the town.

Of course the bully also ends up murdered. So the question becomes how is her death related to the mansion? What value could this old place possibly have that would convince someone to commit murder. Why she was killed was actually fairly simple to figure out.

When the murderer was first introduced I recognized them right away.

What kept me reading wasn't the who killed Cordelia or how she had bullied everyone. Her piece of this was a by the books puzzle. No, it was the history of Ashboro and Barton Mansion that kept me reading. I was completely sucked into Katherine's research and her plans for the town.

The second book is Killer in the Carriage House (2019).

Five stars

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Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix: 06/10/22

Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix

Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix by Aminah Mae Safi is set in Jerusalem in the year 1192. Rahma al-Hud and her older sister Zeena have gone into war against Richard the Lionheart and the other invaders.

But before you dive into this novel, you should do two things. The first is watch (or rewatch) the Disney Robin Hood from 1973. The second thing is to binge watch Leverage (2008-2012). If time is of the essence, just watch "The Scheherazade Job" (season 3, episode 4).

At it's most basic level, Travelers Along the Way is a look at the crusades from the the invaded's point of view. Richard who is often played as the great king and the victim is presented here as a villain (one of a handful).

But it's also the Robin Hood tale, specifically the Disney version, mixed together with the Leverage team dynamics. It's a chance to rework classic scenes into a different setting with different motivating factors. Obviously it's not a one to one adaptation. It's not like a Shakespeare play brought into a different era or location with the words kept the same.

It's a fun read. It's especially fun because I'm a fan of the source material. It was fun to figure out which new character mapped to which old one. It was fun to be reminded of favorite scenes while experiencing new ones.

Five stars

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Deadly Appearances: 06/08/22

Deadly Appearances

Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen is the start of the Joanne Kilbourn mystery series. Set in rural Saskatchewan it's about a speech writer's attempt to solve the murder of the opposition leader during a campaign speech.

As is typical of mysteries from the late 1980s and 1990s, this one is built around dark personal secrets. These are "shocking" things, the sort of things current day conservatives are trying to re-closet.

If this were a modern day mystery, sexual secrets wouldn't alone be motive for murder. Nor would it be something the amateur sleuth would ruminate over. But this is the era where anyone who is a deviant is either someone worth killing or someone with a motive to kill.

The thing though that kept me reading was Joanne's progressive illness. Through the course of the book, which covers about two months, her health declines. The how and why of her illness is by far the more interesting mystery than who killed the politician.

The second book is Murder at the Mendel (1991).

Three stars

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Thirty-five years of tracking my reading: 06/08/22

Thirty-five years of tracking my reading

Since 1987 I've been tracking my reading. My tracking years run from June 9th to June 8th of the next year. Today ends my thirty-fifth year of tracking. To read more about the reasons, see 2019's post.

Today marks the close of my 35th year of tracking my reading. I am ten and a half pages away from finishing my third handwritten volume. By my handwritten account, I'm at 9620 books read. By my calculations in Numbers, I'm at 9817 books.

In 1995 I started transcribing my handwritten notes into a spreadsheet. I haven't kept up with it over the years, meaning I haven't caught the handwritten errors in numbering as they happen. I know of a number of places where my hand counting has drifted.

I'm now back at more actively transcribing the books. I've finished transcribing volume 1. I'm 2/3 of the way through volume 2. As I get further along, I'll start correcting my graph showing my progress through the years.

Last year I adjusted my prediction for hitting 10,000 books would be by December of this year or maybe spring of next year. I have 214 lines left in volume 3. By my count in Numbers, that means I'll hit 10,000 just before I finish volume 2. By my current reading rate, that will probably be January or February of 2023.

My first book for year 35 was Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake (2021). My last book was Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay (2011). I will get the book reviewed later this year.

Midway through this last year I ran out of my backlog of reviews. So going forward I'm no longer aiming for posting a review every day. Nor am I trying to read 300 books a year. I am aiming for around 200.

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Shadowghast: 06/07/22


Shadowghast by Thomas Taylor is the third book in the Legends of Eerie-on-Sea series. Another summer is drawing to a close and the seaside village is preparing for Ghastly Night which involves a shadow play. This year though, a traveling stage magician has arrived to put on the show, upsetting the usual ebb and flow of things.

Eerie-on-Sea has a long history of paranormal happenings — usually in the form of sea monsters. But there's a land based on involving Ghastly Night. If a candle is lit before the right time, the Shadowgast will be summoned. It is a shadow stealing entity with ties to the founding of the village.

The magician brings the promise of information on Herbie's parents. She also promises to give him a home. But to Violet and the observant reader, he's clearly being manipulated. I would go so far as to say he's being gaslighted by the magician. More broadly, though, the unexpected arrival of the magician and her crew gives this novel a similar vibe to The Boneshaker by Kate Milford (2010).

Progress of the three books on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Like the previous two books, Shadowghast sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. As the second book took the series in the opposite direction, thematically, from Malamander, Shadowghast manages to find a middleground.

As Hermie and Violet are working together but don't have much agency due to being children, they are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is home (66): namely saving Eerie-on-Sea and establishing that the village is Herbie's rightful home. Their route is the maze (CC): literally through the underground tunnels, and metaphorically as they try to understand what's happening to the village.

The fourth book, Festergrimm is scheduled for release on September 1, 2022.

Five stars

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New from Here: 06/06/22

New from Here

New from Here by Kelly Yang covers the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic and is inspired by the author's own attempt at keeping her three children safe by deciding to come back to the Bay Area in January 2020. The experience is narrated from the point of view of Knox, an elementary aged boy recently diagnosed with ADHD who is desperate to help his mother and earn enough money for his father's plane ticket after he choses to stay behind in Hong Kong.

By the first couple pages of the first chapter this novel was hitting hard. I live in the Bay Area and have ties to the local Chinese community because of my daughter's involvement in the local school district's Mandarin language program. I can recall our discussion over the earliest news as I was taking her and her older sister home for winter break.

Knox and his family move into a home they somehow own (or a family member owns) in a fictional equivalent to El Cerrito. While things at first seem like they will be okay, reading with 20/20 hindsight one can see early hints of things falling apart in the Bay Area.

At the time, cases weren't reported until early March but later research showed people were infected as early as the second week in January. Knox's family's choices to self isolate for two weeks upon arrival and their insistence on masks (when they could get them) and hand sanitizer, including learning how to make it, makes them seem paranoid to their fictional counterparts but completely sensible to readers.

The novel hits on the economic problems brought by the shut downs, the hoarding of supplies by the wealthy, the racism towards non-whites and especially towards anyone perceived as Chinese, and of course Trumps part in fueling the worst of these responses. All of these problems are further exasperated by Knox's attempts to help but not necessarily in useful ways in part from his ADHD and also his own youth.

It's hard to read and yet incredibly important to read. I hope this is a book that ends up in classrooms and on required reading lists. In the current political atmosphere I suspect it will also be challenged and banned, unfortunately.

Five stars

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Deadly Summer Nights: 06/04/22

Deadly Summer Nights

Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany and Jennifer Van Dyck is the start of the Catskill Summer Resort mystery series. Set in 1953 it involves a drowning at the resort's lake and a Red scare. Elizabeth Grady is the daughter of the owner of Haggerman's Catskills Resort. She's also the one who discovers the body of the man who had rented out isolated cabin 19 for the entire summer. Before she can even change out of her wet clothes the FBI are called and there's rumors flying that the man was part of a communist cell.

I have to admit I didn't realize this mystery series was also historical fiction as the author's other series are contemporary. I bought the audio on the basis of the author alone. I didn't even bother to read the blurb. The blurb, though, uses Dirty Dancing as it's example and I haven't seen the film, so it wouldn't have been much help either.

Setting the mystery in 1953, though, changes up the expectations. There is no internet, no cellphones, no easy access to information for Elizabeth, or anyone else. That means sleuthing has to rely on personal knowledge and the ability to piece together what everyone else knows.

Interestingly, the communist red herring is pretty quickly dismissed by nearly everyone, including the FBI. Yes the come. Yes they take away some evidence. But that's the extent of their bit before they toss the case back at the local authorities. Their disinterest is by far the most salient clue for the observant reader.

Despite being set sixty-eight years in the past from when it was published, the themes and tropes are ones I've seen in other mysteries published in the last couple years. The mystery continues with the cozy mystery's turn away from the police being automatically trustworthy. There continues to be a distrust of authority.

The second book A Deadly Director's Cut was released March 1st of this year.

Four stars

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Into the Wild: Yet Another Misadventure: 06/03/22

Into the Wild: Yet Another Misadventure

Into the Wild: Yet Another Misadventure by Doreen Cronin and Stephen Gilpin (Illustrations) is the third of the Chicken Squad books. There's a new hutch in the yard and squad is concerned that Barbara has brought in a dangerous wild animal. They need to investigate before it's too late!

On a normal day the squad would be able to just walk over and observe. This volume, though, is set during a thunderstorm. There's enough drama in the storm to rival some of the cozy mysteries I've read.

The mystery the animal's identity is made clear pretty early in the book for the observant reader. The chicken squad, though, needs a little longer to process the clues.

The fourth book is Dark Shadows (2017)

Five stars

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Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space: 06/02/22

Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space

Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space edited by Zoraida Córdova is a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories. The stories feature a diverse range of characters and authors.

This is a book to be savored. I read one story each night before bed. It gave me time to really dive into the world and characters.

In the early days of blogging I would have reviewed each of the stories individually. Today, though, I am choosing to just give you my notes for each one.

  1. "Reign of Diamonds" by Anna-Marie McLemore: fire and ice battle. Princess lovers.
  2. "Flecha" by Daniel José Older - The captain and Greengraf go to Earth and rescue the last survivors.
  3. "The First Day of Us" by David Bowles: novio, novia, novie – polyamory on a jovian space station vs space pirates.
  4. "The Tin Man" by Lilliam Rivera - robot brings warning of earthquake in post pandemic / bombing New York
  5. "This is our Manifesto" by Mark Oshiro. Manifesto of escaping prisoners from far moons of the solar system. But ... West Oakland 12? To be more realistic ... Fruitvale 12. West Oakland is a tiny strip of land that is basically a BART station.
  6. "Creatures of Kings" by Circe Moskowitz - Vada and her destiny.
  7. "Eterno" by J C Cervantes - forbidden love between an Eterno and a human.
  8. "White Water, Blue Ocean" by Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez: a gendered curse that's actually a blessing.
  9. "Leyenda" by Romina Garber: brujas and lobizones. A witch on strike and in search of the Coven.
  10. "Color-Coded" by Maya Motayne - girls' hair turns color as their magic ability comes in.
  11. "Magical Offerings" by Nina Moreno - Luz and the Huntsman at the abandoned mini golf in Florida.
  12. "Rouge Enchantments" - enchanted art supplies
  13. "Sumaiko y La Sirena" by Vita Ayala - love between mermaids on a plantation island.
  14. "River People" by Yamile Saied Méndez - Malena and the river god
  15. "Moonglow" by Sarah Faring - Cursed moonglow children in Argentina.
  16. "Killing El Chivo" by Claribel A. Ortega - witchbird and the sea making the ultimate sacrifice.
  17. "Tame the Wicked Night" - Zoraida Córdova - cursed love on a mountaintop.

    Five stars

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May 2022 Sources: 06/02/22

Previous month's book sources

I had another good month of reading in May. I'm about six weeks ahead of my lowered 200 book goal for the year.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In May I read 22 TBR books, up from April's 17 TBR. I read two books published in May. One book was for research. Three were from the library. The two new books raised my score meaning I missed my predicted score. It rose slightly from -3.96 to -3.82. It was tied for my second best May in all thirteen years of tracking.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I was off by a bit for my May prediction, -3.82 vs -4.0. I predict a -3.5 for June because there are a bunch of cozy mystery audios I'm eager to listen to.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for May improved from -2.68 to -2.77.

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Sugar and Vice: 06/01/22

Sugar and Vice

Sugar and Vice by Eve Calder and Christa Lewis (Narrator) is the second book in the Cookie House mystery series. While Kate is helping Maxi in her extensive garden, Oliver digs up a skeleton dressed in pirate garb. Even after it's established that the body isn't Gentleman George, the pirate credited with founding Coral Cay, the damage is done and the town is over run with treasure hunters.

The bulk of this mystery centers on establishing the identity of the body which Maxi has dubbed "Alvin." Understanding who he is requires building a timeline of events that happened months before Kate moved to Coral Cay. There are a couple strong leads and I was briefly misled by the most convincing of the herrings.

The mystery investigation happens as the town prepares for the Pirate Days festival. Kate is using the time to do a recipe of the day raffle where customers share a cookie recipe that she then bakes. There were quite a few delicious sounding cookies mentioned here and one of them just might hold the clue to solve the murder!

As with the first book my favorite character remains Maxi. She's a wonderfully nuanced character. She brings this series to life.

This time around since Katy is well situated in her new life, it was nice to see her in her element. Unfortunately her ex-fiancé makes an appearance. I really wanted him to be part of the murder plot, but he isn't.

The third book is A Tale of Two Cookies (2021).

Five stars

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May 2022 Summary: 06/01/22

Reading report

May was another "new normal." More and more friends and acquaintances came down with COVID after avoiding it for two years. We continue to wear masks everywhere we go.

I read more books in May, 28, up from 24 in the previous month. Of my read books, sixteen were diverse. I am still only reviewing books on the days I finish one. Last month I reviewed 26 books, which is up from the previous month's 24. On the reviews front, sixteen qualified. Eight read and four reviewed books were queer.

I have forty left of the 132 books I've read this year. One book I read last month I don't plan to review.

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