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September 2022

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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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A Study in Scarlet Women: 09/30/22

A Study in Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas (2016) is the start of the Lady Sherlock mystery series. Charlotte Holmes has brought scandal to herself and her family by having an affair with a married man. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is out of the public eye, brought down by a mysterious illness. What his clients don't realize is, he's actually Charlotte Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes is in desperate need because someone is killing men and women of note. They are being poisoned, making it appear they've died in their sleep of heart failure. Now Charlotte's sister is being accused and Sherlock needs to come out of retirement, if Charlotte can find somewhere to live and some way of making an income in London.

The title of this first mystery is a clever play on words between the original Sherlock Holmes mystery, A Study in Scarlet (1887), and the euphemism for prostitutes — or in Charlotte's case, fallen women. As Charlotte as Sherlock, is but one women, the title implies other scarlet women. If one knows the original plot, the fun becomes looking for women who might fill the character roles. Who is Watson? And so forth.

As so much of the fun is figuring out who is who, especially when the women in this book often have multiple names they use: fake names, married names, maiden names, etc., I'm not going to spoil who the other characters map to.

The second book in the series is A Conspiracy in Belgravia (2017).

Five stars

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A Nancy Drew Christmas: 09/29/22

A Nancy Drew Christmas

A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene (2018) is the eighteenth book in the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy is vacationing by herself at a newly refurbished ski resort in Montana. On her first day there a freak accident leaves her in a leg cast and then when dinner goes awry, she also has a mystery to solve. Who is sabotaging the resort before it can fully re-open?

The mystery is set against a contemporary background of a Canadian pipeline trying to cut through the forest and the environmental protests vs some of the townsfolk set to profit from the project. While the oil pipeline is an interesting set dressing, it's primarily a politically inspired red herring.

This was another mystery where I recognized the saboteur immediately. But there are enough other distractions that I got carried away with the story anyway. The setting — the mountain, the ski runs, and the lodge itself — all make this mystery extra fun. The confined location (in part because of Nancy's cast) gives this volume a similar feel to volume fourteen: Riverboat Roulette (2017).

The nineteenth book is The Stolen Show (2019).

Five stars

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Okoye to the People: 09/28/22

Okoye to the People

Okoye to the People by Ibi Zoboi (2022) is a standalone novel in the Black Panther universe. It follows Okoye's first assignment as one of T'Chaka's Dora Milaje. It involves a trip to New York where she is distracted by the plight of a particular neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Ibi Zoboi's stories often feature an outsider character whose unique perspective provides well needed commentary on the inequities of American life. She does this with an addition of the supernatural or in this case, Wakandan high tech.

The majority of the novel takes place in a neighborhood that the city and the world has forgotten about. It seems to be actively hidden much like Agloe is in The Cartographers  by Peng Shepherd (2022). You have to be invited there or know someone who knows where it is to get there.

Unlike Agloe, though, this neighborhood is suffering a violent gentrification fueled by a new drug. How the drug and the gentrification and the neighborhood's disappearance all piece together makes for a compelling mystery. It also gives Okoye plenty to think about as she finds irony in the perceived wealth of the United States vs the obvious poverty in area — the exact opposite of her home.

Like every other Zoboi novel I've read, Okoye to the People sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Okoye as a royal guard is a privileged traveler (00). Her travels are throughout New York City (00). Her main method of travel is the subway system (00).

Five stars

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The Cat Who Saved Books: 09/27/22

The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa and Louise Heal Kawai (translator) (2017) is metafiction about books and their magical place in the world. Rintaro Natsuki is facing moving in with an aunt he barely knows and the shuttering of a used bookshop he and his grandfather ran now that the grandfather is dead. That is until an orange tiger cat calls on Mr. Proprietor to help him traverse four labyrinths to save some books.

I couldn't help but compare this novel's cat to the one who travels with Coraline in Neil Gaiman's 2002 novel. Both cats clearly know more about these alternate worlds than they are willing to share and both are ultimately dependent on their young human companions to set things right.

For Rintaro's quests, he is sent to four book themed labyrinths, with each one having a minotaur like character who represents one aspect of books. The first is an avid reader who reads once and then holds onto his books as if they are precious works of art (regardless of their actual value). The second is someone who wants to abridge books to make reading easier and less time consuming for busy people. The third is the CEO of a giant publishing house. The final one is an avatar for the books themselves.

Each journey while a metaphysical and metaphorical exploration on the nature of books, reading and writing, they are ultimately rather simplistic parables. There are those who like to read a lot and aren't as inclined to re-read as others (I am one of these readers, though I give away most of the books I read in a year). There are plenty of people who will listen to audiobooks at 2x speed to get through things more quickly, or who prefer the Readers' Digest abridged versions. Publishing does produce things at excess amounts and yet not make things easily available to readers (see Barnes and Nobles current trend on not stocking new books lacking in preorder numbers). Despite the simplicity of these scenarios, I found the novel compelling and one I will want to re-read.

Rintaro's journeys also put this novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Rintaro is a literal orphan (FF) traveler. His journey though to various other world locations is ultimately home (66) in that these quests help him realize that the bookstore is his home and somewhere he wants to stay. Finally his route is as the cat describes, through the labyrinth, both in that each trip has a singular path in and out and collectively these journeys serve to transform Rintaro's character, giving him the confidence he needs to stay and run the store.

Five stars

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COVID-19 in Three to Five Words: 09/26/22

COVID-19 in Three to Five Words

COVID-19 in Three to Five Words by April Murphy (2020) was a Kickstartered book that stemmed from an art series that took on new meaning in the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The series of paintings were inspired by a snippet of conversation the artist heard while out running errands. Not knowing the context, she decided to make her own context and interpretation via her painting. When COVID changed the world, April decided to take these three to five word interpretations and use them as a dialog for the new world we were living in.

April's art typically involves animals and bright colors. This book is dogs and cats doing something related to whatever the phrase is. There are also some wild animals included. For each creative take on the phrase, there's a page of text explaining the COVID context.

For instance, "Flattening the Curve" shows a black dog in profile sitting on a white cat. On the following page, though, there is an explanation of how early on authorities were hopeful that social distancing and masking would help keep the infection rate down enough to keep the virus from spreading.

April currently has a few remaining copies available on her ETSY shop.

Five stars

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A Fatal Booking: 09/25/22

A Fatal Booking

A Fatal Booking by Victoria Gilbert and Suzie Althens (Narrator) (2022) is the third book in the Booklover's B&B mystery series. Charlotte's bed and breakfast is booked for an Alice in Wonderland themed event. Unfortunately the most contentious participant ends up murdered.

As it turns out, the dead woman and the remaining guests all have ties to Charlotte's aunt and the days when she was hosting and attending high society parties. Of course by now we know that her aunt was a spy. With ties to events that happened decades ago, their interest is in the house itself and the secrets it might still hold.

Maybe I've read too many B&B or old house based mysteries but the murderer was obvious to me. I had to wait for Charlotte to catch up with my reasoning. They use some classic misdirection techniques. The other problem was knowing the murderer wouldn't accomplish their ultimate goal. So it was a bit of a frustrating read, knowing that Charlotte and the others were in unnecessary danger because the murderer didn't do their homework.

Four stars

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Friends Forever: 09/24/22

Friends Forever

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (Illustrations) (2021) is the third book in the Friends graphic memoir series. Shannon is in eighth grade and she's struggling to keep afloat when whatever she does doesn't seem to be enough.

This volume shows brutally how toxic her home life was. It shows how misogyny, patriarchy, and religion conspires to keep children, especially girls, in their place.

A side story is how Shannon participated in theater. While it didn't end up being her calling, it did end up being a safe space for her when so many other places in her life weren't.

Four stars

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Digging Up Trouble: 09/23/22

Digging Up Trouble

Digging Up Trouble by Kitt Crowe and Tina Wolstencroft (narrator) (2021) is the start of the Sweet Fiction mystery series. Set in Confection, Oregon, a fictional town near Bend, it's about a bookshop owner and her dog who end up solving a pair of murders with the help of the book club.

Lexi has a modest home with a modest garden, in a town that prides itself on its well maintained, prize winning gardens. Her border collie mix, Cookie, has become a bit of a pariah for her love of digging. Now any unexpected hole or overturned earth in a garden is blamed on her. It is during Lexi's quest to prove her dog's innocence that she ends up in the middle of a murder mystery.

For a town that is so flower and vegetable obsessed, I found the sweets themed streets and the town's name, Confection, a bit twee. It wasn't enough of a distraction to stop reading. I'm hoping later books will explain the town's naming scheme. At least it's memorable among all the other fictional small towns I visit in these cozy mysteries.

The mysteries themselves were a nice blend of puzzles. There is a rumored buried treasure. There's a missing sibling. There's a dead curmudgeon who was apparently a sweetheart to a select few. With the possibility of treasure and the gardening shenanigans, the book reads like a blending of Read and Gone by Allison Brook (2018) and A Curious Incident by Vicki Delany (2021).

The second book is A Poisonous Page (2022).

Four stars

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Nightcrawling: 09/22/22


Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley is set in Oakland in the last year of Obama's second term. It's inspired by a 2015 case involving the Oakland PD and other local police departments had tried to cover up their sexual exploitation of a young woman.

Kiara and her brother are trying to hold on to the apartment they used to live in with their parents and baby sister. Now it's just the two of them. Marcus is trying to chase the dream of being a rap star, inspired by an uncle who made it big disappeared from the family. Kiara has given up on high school to look for work. The only thing she can find is sex work. Soon she's got the eye of the OPD who offer her protection from themselves in exchange for sex.

Kiara is a vibrant, three dimensional character. She does what she has to do to survive and to uplift the others she loves.

The book is short and lyrical. It's also blunt and to the point. It paints the neighborhoods of Oakland as its own character. This an Oakland written by someone who knows the city and its strengths and weaknesses.

Kiara's story also sits on the road narrative spectrum. She for her youth, her poverty, her gender, and because she's Black, is a marginalized traveler (66). Her destination — or rather her area of travel — is the city (00). Her route, though, is the cornfield, as the confusing path she takes is compared to the Alameda County corn maze (p. 175) (FF).

Five stars

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Sex, Murder and a Double Latte: 09/21/22

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis and Gabra Zackman (Narrator) (2005) is the first book in the Sophie Katz murder mystery series. Set in San Francisco during the real estate downturn it's the tale of a mystery author who sees a pattern in some recent celebrity deaths and has come to realize the murderer is now targeting her. If only she can get the SFPD to believe her!

The initial book really should be called Sex, Murder, and a Frappuccino because of Sophie's addiction to them and her loyalty to Starbucks. She spends much of her time in the book either drinking them, trying to get others to drink them, or wishing that she could be drinking them.

Despite the silly Starbucks detail, Sophie is an interesting person. Her overall personality and her relationship with her hairdresser reminds me of the character duo from the Life Coach mystery series, but with a San Francisco perspective, rather than the Hamptons. Sophie also brings to the novel a mixed heritage, having a Black father and a Jewish mother.

The mystery builds on the trope of the killer who is recreating fictional murder scenes and using them against their creators. Before Sophie is targeted a rapper and a movie director are both murdered. Usually this trope bugs me but Sophie is enough of a cynic to not fall prey instantly. Instead she tries to thwart the murderer and does manage to a few times, forcing their hand.

That said, an observant reader will be able to spot the murderer well before Sophie does. There is a strong red herring to confuse the issue but if you pay attention to another mystery trope — one that usually takes multiple books to play out — you'll be able to tell the difference between the murderer and the herring.

The second book is Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (2006).

Five stars

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Guys and Dolls: 09/20/22

Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls by Damon Runyon is the name of a variety of collections of short stories written over the course of the author's career. The edition I read was a poorly done reprint from 1976 of a 1931 collection that isn't listed on Goodreads. Thus, this post won't so much be a review as a collection of thoughts before I read a newer, more comprehensive edition.

Nearly every Damon Runyon short story collection for the last many decades has been titled Guys and Dolls to draw a connection with the musical by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The initial idea came from one of Runyon's stories or maybe all of them. This detail I'm not entire sure of yet.

None of Runyon's stories are called "Guys and Dolls." According to Wikipedia, the musical was inspired by three stories: "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown", "Blood Pressure", and "Pick the Winner."

In the library book I read, only one of those stories was included, namely "Blood Pressure." It seems silly to me to name a book after a musical and then only include a third of the source material.

    The collection included:
  1. The bloodhounds of Broadway
  2. Social error
  3. The lily of St. Pierre
  4. Butch minds the baby
  5. Lillian
  6. Romance in the roaring forties
  7. A very honorable guy
  8. Madame La Gimp
  9. Dark Dolores
  10. Gentlemen, the king!
  11. The hottest guy in the world
  12. The brain goes home
  13. Blood pressure

I now have a different, newer edition on hand. This one is four hundred pages (compared to the 200 pages of the library version). It's the Penguin Books edition from 2008. It contains the first two stories (as well a bunch of others, and some of his nonfiction writing) but doesn't contain "Pick a Winner." I will review the Penguin edition later after I've finished it.

Two stars

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Gone but Not Furgotten: 09/19/22

Gone but Not Furgotten

Gone but Not Furgotten by Cate Conte and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) (2022) is the sixth book in the Cat Cafe mystery series. This murder mystery is tied up with a difficult topic — cat hoarding. Maddie James finds a known cat hoarder dead at the bottom of her stairs when she and Cass go to offer help.

The murderer to me was pretty obvious. Sometimes that happens. A character walks onto the page and just as the murderer vibe. That's what happened here, although from reviews I've read, the murderer's identity was a surprise to some readers. Maybe I read too many mysteries!

For me, the difficult part of reading (or my case, listening to) this book, was the descriptions of the cats in the victim's basement and the effort put into capturing them. I'm grateful that the hoarding situation was taken to some extremes I've seen. But I still kept filling in the unwritten details.

Four stars

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Body and Soul Food: 09/18/22

Body and Soul Food

Body and Soul Food by Abby Collette and L. Malaika Cooper (Narrator) is the start of the Books & Biscuits mystery series. Set in Seattle, it's the story of fraternal twins going into business together. Just days before opening, a dear friend of both of them ends up dying on the train to nearby Timber Lake.

Keaton is reminded of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) and that informs the direction her investigating takes. Her brother, Koby, has a more logical approach, thinking of motive and opportunity. Together, though, they also must concentrate on their shop, where he runs the restaurant and she runs the bookstore.

The mystery ultimately ends up hinging on what the Reef owned. He had unexpected ties to Timber Lake, the town where Keaton grew up with her adopted family. Her twin brother, though, had remained in foster care and lived for quite some time as a foster brother with Reef.

Despite their closeness, he is just as surprised by his foster brother's second life in the small town. Overall I enjoyed the book, though sometimes the narrator seemed to stumble over the words she was reading. I couldn't tell if those stumbles were reflected in the text or not. Perhaps the recording session needed a few more takes but chose not to.

The second book is Soul of a Killer and is due on October 4, 2022.

Four stars

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Books Can Be Deceiving: 09/17/22

Books Can Be Deceiving

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) is the start of the Library Lover's mystery series. Lindsey is the new director of the Briar Creek public library. The children's librarian has been working on a picture book and Lindsey arranges a meeting to have a visiting editor look at it. The editor accuses Lindsey of plagiarizing the entire thing. Turns out her ex-boyfriend had sold the book as his own.

Before the ex-boyfriend can be confronted about his actions, he's murdered in his island home. The children's librarian ends up being the prime suspect.

Ultimately this mystery is another of the author is murdered for steeling another's work. The motive then lies in the murdered man's past. This gives the author, through Lindsey, the change to explore and expand the world of Briar Creek. The world building and clue discovery felt organic and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Despite some of the hokeyness of how this particular novel describes the book industry, I found the book a quick and entertaining read. I had figured out the who and why pretty early and just had to wait for the evidence to catch up. I did miss one key detail, though, which resulted in an exciting conclusion.

The second book is Due or Die (2012).

Five stars

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The Trainbow: 09/16/22

The Trainbow

The Trainbow by Nina Laden is an accordion style picture book that combines two childhood favorites: trains and rainbows. There's a colorful train coming your way. Each car is a different color of the rainbow.

The book reminds me most in its execution to What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Schwartz and Dona Turner (Illustrator) (2000). Schwartz's book uses a series of colored ribbons to build the rainbow through the process of reading the book. Laden's book is literally the rainbow, except in train form.

My inner pedant child, though, twitches at the fact that the last color, and therefore, the last car on the train, is red. The last train on a steam train (which the Trainbow is) is the caboose. Every caboose I've ever seen in person has either been red or yellow. The red ones were the older ones, and the yellow ones were used by Union Pacific on their diesel freight trains.

The color wheel is a human invention that works on how the typical human brain interpolates colors (assuming no color blindness). The color wheel can go either direction and start at any color, though typically it's either purple (violet) or red.

But a rainbow is a naturally occurring event when water droplets act as prisms to display the visible color spectrum. Because of wavelengths, the violet color is always at the bottom (or inner ring) of the rainbow and red is always at the top (or outer ring). So if the trainbow is describing in train form, the rainbow, it does make sense to start with red. Since steam trains are typically shown pulling their cars (though trains can push them and diesel trains often do), the engine would therefore be red.

In trying to reconcile the order of colors and the order of train cars in my head, I did a Google image search for purple cabooses. The first bunch were clearly color-altered photos. But later on there were some examples of genuinely purple cabooses. They are rarer than the two colors I grew up seeing but they did exist.

Four stars

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Spy x Family, Volume 5: 09/15/22

Heartstopper: Volume Two

Spy x Family, Volume 5 by Tatsuya Endo is the aftermath of the averted terrorist attack. Bond is now part of the Forger family but there are forces trying to bring an end to Loid and Yor's marriage.

On the school front, Anya has finals coming up. It happens during the New Moon, meaning she won't have her mind reading powers. That means she has to study. But the subjects are advanced and she's so much younger than her classmates.

Yor brings in her brother to tutor Anya. That meant sitting through more of his annoying jealousy. At least he wasn't there in an official capacity.

Finally, a new character is introduced. Loid has a coworker who is a secret admirer. She wants Yor out of the way so she can have Loid to herself. I know these sorts of plots are typical to slow burn romances, especially the comedic ones, but I just want to watch the two adults slowly fall for each other without interference.

I have volume 6 on hand and will be reading it soon.

Five stars

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Crowned and Moldering: 09/14/22

Crowned and Moldering

Crowned and Moldering by Kate Carlisle is the third Fixer-Upper mystery. Mac Sullivan has hired Shannon Hammer and her crew to restore and modernize (within reason) the lighthouse mansion. On the initial inspection, Shannon and he find a skeleton.

The remains end up being those of a teenager who went missing from Shannon's year, some fifteen years earlier. The mystery, then is set primarily in 2000 but has ties to the Vietnam war. This makes Shannon and her cohorts millennials with the dead teen's parent, an older Boomer.

In other cold case based cozy mysteries I've read, there's usually a modern day murder. This book doesn't go that route. Frankly I was both surprised and relieved. The present day murders rarely make any sense if the murderer has managed to go decades without getting caught.

The murderer here is pretty obvious. They're so obvious to almost be unbelievable as the main suspect. They were such a caricature to bring to mind certain cartoon villains from cartoons that were popular when the book was first released.

The fourth book is Deck the Hallways (2016).

Four stars

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The Kaiju Preservation Society: 09/13/22

The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (2022) is among my favorite reads so far for this year. If you like Godzilla films, this is the book for you. Set in the early months of the COVID lockdown, it follows a former start up worker who ends up being the guy who "lifts things" in a top secret location on an alternate Earth.

Jamie Gray goes into an a meeting as a marketing exec for Füdmüd and leaves with a demotion (if he choses to take it) as a food delivery guy. On a particular delivery he's offered a well paying job that's extremely off grid but would let him and his two ridiculous roommates keep their flat and weather the economic downturn brought on by COVID. He's told he'd "lift things" and be working for a "large animal preserve."

Work is done in such a remote location that it's on an alternate Earth. So take the Long Earth premise (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, 2012) but apply the kaiju movie logic to the place instead. Giant animals, tropical setting (even in Newfoundland and Labrador), and nuclear powered lifeforms that are hosts to parasites that can and will eat you.

That's the set up. It's a ridiculous book in premise but is a fun page turner. It's got tons of geeky Easter eggs.

It also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Jamie Gray and his PhD colleagues are privileged travelers (00) (as are the VIPs who sometimes visit). Their destination is utopia (FF), in that it's a place that can only be gotten to under special circumstances. Their route there is an offroad one (a plane there, a portal, and helicopters on the alternate Earth) (66).

Five stars

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Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 1: 09/12/22

Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 1

Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 1 by Keigo Maki (2019) is the start of a story of Izumi and Shikimori. He's klutz and she's a tough girl who wants to be cute and bubbly.

I read volume one because of the recent anime (Spring 2022). The anime turns out to be more plot oriented than the manga. The manga instead is a series of short gags that are loosely tied together through some segues.

The anime I genuinely enjoyed. It's like a gendered swapped Milo Murphy's Law but with a love interest. Shikimori and Izumi genuinely love each other. They're cute together and their strengths and weaknesses compliment each other.

The manga, though, being so gagged focus takes much longer to establish the leads' as fully realized characters. I felt like I was reading more into each scene from having seen the anime. Had I just read the manga, I would probably be rating volume one two or three stars.

Four stars

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Midnight Blue-Light Special: 09/11/22

Midnight Blue-Light Special

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire and Emily Bauer (Narrator) is the second of the InCryptid books. Verity Price is in her last few weeks of her year in New York. When she should be trying one last time to launch her dancing career, she's faced instead with a potential purge as a group of hunters from Covenant of St. George have arrived.

From the first book, Discount Armageddon, we know that the Covenant is a dangerous organization hellbent on the elimination of all cryptids. We know they are dangerous. Having them here as the big threat takes away the charm of the previous book, namely, a mystery with a paranormal spin.

Rather than being a mystery, this volume is horror. It's the threat of a known enemy being inevitable. It's nonstop tension and preparation and then two thirds through, our narrator is taken and the remainder of the book is from her cousin's point of view.

I appreciate that the author likes to tell different types of stories in her fantasy worlds. It's what she's known for. In this particular case, this book didn't work for me.

A factor in my reaction is that I listened to it as an audio. It's not that Emily Bauer did anything wrong in her performance. It's more that the novel is eleven hours long, about four more hours in length than the cozies I typically listen to. Had I read this book instead, I would have skimmed the scenes that didn't work for me.

The third book is Half-Off Ragnarok (2014). I will continue with this series but in print, either physical copies or ebooks.

Three stars

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Coached Red-Handed: 09/10/22

Coached Red-Handed

Coached Red-Handed by Victoria Laurie and Rachel Dulude (Narrator) (2022) is the fourth book in the Life Coach mystery series. Cat has a European vacation planned for her and Gilley, her way of cheering up as he faces life as a recent divorcé. Unfortunately, their last client before the trip ends up brutally murdered and they are persons of interest.

The murder victim is a very successful writer who had through her decades of writing been able to support her large extended family. Having felt they were taking advantage of her good will she had cut them all out of her will just before her death. Cat and Gilley are convinced one of her children or grandchildren is the murderer.

As a side plot, there's an iffy building project looking for new backers. It's set in an environmentally sensitive area and appears to being built without the necessary foundation to hold the weight on a sandy surface.

For the most part I enjoyed this latest book but the solution seemed so far out of the blue. It hit wrong in the same way that the ending of Clause of Death by Lorna Barrett (2022) does. Here's another example where the murderer just sit still and get away with it.

While Barrett's book relies on a character having above normal strength, this one requires equipment that borders on something from a science fiction novel. Yes, the world of Cat and Gilley has paranormal elements, but so far, science fiction worthy high tech hasn't been part of it.

Because the ending requires knowledge of imaginary things that have yet to be established in a world containing numerous books (if all of Laurie's books are included), I have knocked one star off the rating.

Four stars

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Ascender, Volume 4: Star Seed: 09/08/22

Ascender, Volume 4: Star Seed

Ascender, Volume 4: Star Seed by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (Illustrator) is the conclusion of a story arc that began with Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars (2015).

Tim 21, gone from the known universe and merged with the ancient technology, is watching from afar as the remaining people on both sides of the remaining fight struggle to survive. He has become the literal deus ex machina and this book is basically a coda for how he tries to undo all the damage done by the robot uprising and the aftermath of Mother and her goons.

Mostly this volume is a lot of running around followed by the final comeuppance of the bad guys. It's satisfying in that it does wrap up threads, but overall this two series sequence (ten books in total) is my least favorite arc by Jeff Lemire.

Four stars

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Death in Four Courses: 09/08/22

Death in Four Courses

Death in Four Courses by Lucy Burdette (2012) is the second book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series. Hayley Snow and her visiting mother are attending the annual Key West literary conference. The theme this year is writing about food. Keynote speaker Jonah Barrows's insistence on brutal honesty and transparency angers enough people that he ends up murdered on the first day.

Hayley's primary goal for the conference is to prove herself as a food critic as her recent hire to Key Zest has come under scrutiny. If she can land the right interviews and write enough snappy restaurant reviews she'll prove her worth to the magazine.

But she found Barrow's body and a long time family friend and dear neighbor is the prime suspect. She's therefore compelled to investigate. Her mother also wants to help. Hayley's worried she might be more in the way than actual help.

As I happen to read quite a few books featuring food both as fiction (primarily cozy mysteries) and non fiction (memoirs), I found the tangents on incorporating food into writing fascinating. I should also note that I have degrees in narrative analysis (film, not literature but there's a lot of overlap in technique). Other readers might find these asides as a distracting filler.

The mystery itself, beyond the misdirection involving the family friend, was pretty straightforward. It was another one where I spotted the murderer instantly. Waiting though for the motive and evidence to catch up with my literary analysis, took the rest of the novel to catch up. But it was fun to follow along as Hayley and her mother worked to solve the mystery.

The third book is Topped Chef (2013)

Five stars

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A Little Ferry Tale: 09/07/22

A Little Ferry Tale

A Little Ferry Tale by Chad Otis is the tale of a small ferry who wants to be something more. It's written in the tradition of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (1930) and Scuffy by Gertrude Crampton (1946).

Little Ferry isn't fast or strong. She can't compete with Tugboat or Speedboat. She has her routine of picking up passengers and taking them to and from the island. But she feels invisible. She wants desperately to be something more than a small, reliable boat.

Queen of Cumberland ferry on the Salish Sea (8/12/22)
Queen of Cumberland ferry on the Salish Sea (8/12/22)

Besides being a sentimental fan of Scuffy, I couldn't help but notice how similar Little Ferry looks to some of the smaller ferries that BCFerries run or the equivalent ones on the Washington State side of the Salish sea. As the book came out just before my recent trip to Vancouver and Victoria, I knew I had to read it.

Little Ferry does find her unique purpose and does come to appreciate how important her ability to carry people and other creatures across the water is. While she's normally a commuter craft, she's able to help in an emergency in ways that neither Tugboat nor Speedboat can.

Five stars

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A Murder Yule Regret: 09/06/22

A Murder Yule Regret

A Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer and Emile Durante (Narrator) is the seventh in the Bread Shop mystery series. Ivy Culpepper has been hired to photograph guests at a Dickens themed Christmas party for celebrities. Unfortunately a tabloid journalist ends up murdered before the end of the night!

The mystery this time is focused on a visiting Hollywood starlet, Eliza Fox. While the police see her as a person of interest, Ivy sees that she's probably a victim too of a much longer running con. The journalist just happened to get too close to something important.

So much of the novel is focused on the mysterious Eliza that the usual pieces of these novels are missing. Save for two scenes, Ivy barely does anything photographic. Likewise, there's barely any time spent with the bread shop or baking.

As Ivy is outside her element, her sleuthing abilities suffer. Rather than being in tune with local gossip and having her neighbor's help, she runs primarily on assumptions. Her disinterest to question her own bias hinders the solving of the case and ends up putting herself and Eliza in unnecessary danger.

Four stars

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Christmas Cookie Murder: 09/05/22

Christmas Cookie Murder

Christmas Cookie Murder by Leslie Meier is the sixth book in the Lucy Stone mystery series. It's nearly Christmas but Lucy is distracted by the murder of Tucker Whitney, a guest at her first (and probably last) attempt at hosting the annual cookie exchange.

Each book in this series seems to have the town of Tinker's Cove hyper focused on a single problem. In this volume it's the restrictions on lobster fishing which is causing a serious downturn in the local economy. Six books on and eight years since Mail Order Murder aka Mistletoe Murder. Has the mail-order company gone completely under? Wouldn't they have retooled to take internet orders by now?

So while Lucy's fictional world continues to march on in step with the time it takes her author to write, Tinker's Cove exists in a thematic bubble. This Maine village has similar problems as the Goldy Bear Culinary mystery series. The town's geography, economy, and history is there to fit the themes, rather than to grow organically with the series.

One thing this twenty-three year old mystery has in common with newer ones is the trope of the untrustworthy authority figures. As the book is so old, I missed that one piece of the mystery, though, I did manage to tie Tucker's death to the lobsters.

I'm curious to see how the series will evolve as Lucy's children age out of the series. If the books continue to happen in real time, soon the oldest children will be out of the house, if they manage to go to college. I hope this has been the case (there are twenty-eight book as of writing this review), because Lucy's late 1990s home life and married life is a serious downer and serves mostly to pad the books.

The seventh book is Turkey Day Murder (2000).

Four stars

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The Cartographers: 09/04/22

The Cartographers

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd (2022) is a speculative fiction mystery set in New York. Nell Young had a promising career at the New York public library's map collection until the junk box incident. Since then she's been making cheesy replica maps for collectors. Her life is boring and predictable until her father is murdered while working late.

Among the former Dr. Young's person affects is one of the maps from the junk box. It's a 1930 road map of New York. It should be worthless as these things were given away at gas stations for decades. But this seems to be the only copy left and it seems to be dangerous to own.

This novel ended up reading like a satisfying blend of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012) and Paper Towns by John Green (2008). There's a mysterious society, the Cartographers, and a mysterious town — Agloe, NY.

Agloe as authors Green and Shepherd are quick to remind, is a real paper town. The publishers of the original map put Agloe in their road maps to prove that they were the owners of the data being printed. Agloe, NY did show up on other publisher's maps and a lawsuit was started. But nothing came of it.

In The Cartographers, there is a surreal reason for why. The how and why of it brings to mind The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (2013), in that travel by map can be a very different and magical thing.

But this isn't just a novel about discovering the secret behind a paper town. There is still the unknown person who is killing people to get to the map. That person has also been systematically destroying all the maps. This person's involvement in the events of Nell Young's life and her decisions since her father's death are similar to a certain character's motivations in The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (2022).

This novel also happens to sit on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Nell's journey to understand (and visit) Agloe is one she does both as a family member and as a couple (33). Agloe being a paper town, an unreal place, counts as a utopia (FF). Nell's route, there, though, is rather pedestrian, being the classic Blue Highways (as mapped in 1930) (33). Summarized, The Cartographers is about a family traveling to utopia via the Blue Highway.

Five stars

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Noragami: Stray God, Volume 13: 09/03/22

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 13

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 13 by Adachitoka (2015) marks my return to reading this manga series after a four year hiatus. I was with my youngest at the library and happened to see that they had a bunch of the volumes I still haven't read and decided to grab four of them. At this point I don't know if I will go back for more volumes straight away. That's not a statement against the series, just my own disinterest in binge reading.

You'll notice I've skipped reviewing volumes six through eleven which covers Yato's time in the underworld and the disquiet among Bishimon's family. All of this is covered in Noragami Aragoto.

Volume 13 sets into motion a plot arc that recontextualizes the series so far. We will learn Yato and Nora's history and their relationship to Koto. We will also learn more about Hiyori's family and their ties to the Far Shore, though this only starts in earnest in volume 14.

The inciting incident is Nora spreading the notion that there is a Gods' Secret. She's ambiguous as to what knowing it will do and makes it too tempting a riddle to leave alone. Hiyori, Yukiné, and one of Bishimon's shiki are all affected by the conundrum.

The majority of this volume is an extended flashback into the life and times of a young vengence spirit named Yaboku and the stray before she was one. There's a third shiki, Sakura, through whom we learn the truth behind the Gods' Secret. It's not a pretty one. In fact, it's rather depressing, especially thinking of what could happen if Yukiné were to learn it.

Four stars

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Bear Country: 09/02/22

Bear Country

Bear Country by Doreen Cronin and Stephen Gilpin (Illustrations) (2018) is the last of the original set of Chicken Squad books. Ziggy the hamster alerts them to the fact that their Barbara and J.J. are missing. Worse yet, there's been sightings of a headless bear in the area!

This volume pulls together a lot of the previous ones. Some of the mystery is pulled from the chickens' unique perspective and misinterpretation of the world. But there's also some genuine missing persons detecting done. Finally there are sound clues that to a human reader might lead to a quicker understanding of the situation than it does for the Chicken Squad.

Of the six, this one is probably my favorite. I wish the longer chapter books were on going. Now, though, there are two ready to read level two books. The first of these is The Chicken House (2021).

Five stars

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August 2022 Sources: 09/02/22

Previous month's book sources

Despite the interruption due to travel, I had decent month of reading in August. I've met my goal of reading 200 books. I might actually reach my previous years' goal of 300 books but I'm enjoying not having that pressure.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In August I read 17 TBR books, down from July's 21 TBR. Two books were published in August. Three books were for research. Four were from the library. My ROOB score for August, -3.58, is higher than the previous month: -4.31 It's my third best August in 13 years of tracking this metric.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I did about what I had predicted for August. I predicted a -3.5. With reading back to normal and no travel planned, I'm predicting a -3.75 for September.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for August improved from -2.91 to -2.96.

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Bayou Book Thief: 09/01/22

Bayou Book Thief

Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) (2022) is the start of the Vintage Cookbook mystery series. Ricki James has come home to New Orleans from Los Angeles to run a cookbook / cooking themed gift shop at the house turned museum of the late chef, Genevieve "Vee" Charbonnet.

When the store receives a trunk along with some boxes of donated books, inside is the body of a cantankerous former tour guide. In order to keep her shop open and save the reputation of the museum, Ricki decides to solve the mystery herself.

The mystery is set against the muggy summer heat. Ricki on her first day in her new home ends up with a broken AC. Coming from Los Angeles she has lived with out AC during heatwaves. But the mugginess that holds the heat even over night, combined with the frequent unexpected rain storms is a new adventure for her. As someone like Ricki who doesn't have AC, I found the horrified responses of her coworkers amusing and on point.

The second book in the series is Wined and Dined in New Orleans. It's scheduled for release on February 7, 2023.

Four stars

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August 2022 Summary: 09/01/22

Reading report

August meant a week in Canada, our first in six years. When I travel I don't read much and this year, I decided to avoid posting on my blog. We masked everywhere and managed to avoid getting sick. Then the first week of school, we all ended up with the flu!

I have a back log of about forty books so I might post more frequently, meaning days when I haven't finished a book.

I read fewer books in August, 24, down from 29 in the previous month. Of my read books, sixteen were diverse. I reviewed 21 books, down from 23 in July. On the reviews front, fifteen qualified. Six read and five reviewed books were queer.

I have forty-four books left to review of the 212 books I've read this year.

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