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November 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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Lowriders Blast from the Past: 11/30/22

Lowriders Blast from the Past

Lowriders to the Rescue by Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third (Illustrations) (2022) is the fourth book in the Lowriders in Space graphic novel series. This one focuses on cross-culturing, gentrification, migration, and climate change. Sokar is a monarch butterfly who has come out of the mountains looking for help for the other monarchs, trapped by a raging forest fire.

Sokar speaks Arabic and wears a hijab. As Cathy Camper explains in the afterword, the previous books have focused on Raúl the Third's heritage but now she wants to include some of her own. Sokar's understanding of both Arabic and Spanish gives another interesting side to this volume, lessons on Spanish word origins that came into the language from Arabic by way of the Moors.

Sokar's vulnerability to smoke and smog segues into another main plot thread for this volume: climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels. Flappy, who happens to be smitten with Sokar, wants desperately to find a way of converting the lowrider into a greener machine without having to give up the beautiful paint job he's done on it. The solution is solar paint, something that's theoretically possible but not quite as off the shelf as it is for Flappy.

All in all, I liked this latest volume, although it seemed less fantastical as some of the previous ones. I think it's a sign of the times, that even escapist fantasy needs to take a look at the major problems facing the world.

Chart showing the placement of the four books on the Road Narrative Spectrum

Like the previous three, this volume sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The lowriders and Sokar collectively are marginalized travelers (as every previous volume has has) (66). Their destination is the wildlands, or the forest where Sokar's family is trapped (99). Their route is an offroad one (66).

Five stars

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Faux Paw: 11/29/22

Faux Paw

Paws and Effect by Sofie Kelly and Cassandra Campbell (Narrator) (2016) is the eighth book in the Magical Cats mystery series. Kathleen Paulson and Detective Marcus Gordon are finally dating but the arrival of some old college friends might pose a threat to their relationship. Things are further complicated when one of his former colleagues is murdered and evidence points to Marcus.

All the way through I think we're supposed to doubt Marcus but the actual murderer was obvious to me from the moment the death was announced. Originally the murder is reported as an accident and I just knew who had to had done it. I even had a fairly good idea of why. It takes the majority of the remaining book for Kathleen and Detective Hope draw the same conclusion.

Like previous books in this series the final confrontation and climax is a nail biting scene. I knew Kathleen had to survive as there are more books in the series. Detective Hope, though, gets seriously injured and I wasn't sure she would make it to the end.

The ninth book is A Tale of Two Kitties (2017).

Five stars

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Girl in Reverse: 11/27/22

Girl in Reverse

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber (2014) is a historic novel set in Kansas City, Missouri during the Korean War. Lily has brief memories of being with her mother in San Francisco's Chinatown, and then memories of the orphanage before she was later adopted by the Firestones. Now she's living with her adoptive parents and her brother, a child they had after she was adopted.

The Korean War, though, has brought out the worst in her white classmates and teachers. The decision to walk out after a particularly bad current events presentation puts her on a path to learn the truth of her heritage and the identity of the woman she's now calling "Gone Mom."

The novel is written with the same first lyricism that I so enjoyed in Stuber's other novel, Crossing the Tracks (2010). Every word counts towards the unfolding of Lily's history — the truth of her life.

I especially like that Lily despite her desire to learn the identity of her parents, doesn't want to leave her adoptive family. Lily and Ralph have a tight bond and although she's sometimes jealous of what he can get away with, he clearly loves and respects her.

Like Stuber's first novel, this one also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Lily is a literal orphan (FF). Her desire is to learn about her past, thus her destination is uhoria (CC). Her route there is the Blue Highway (33) as represented by the buses and routes she walks between her destinations. Summarized, Lily's tale is of an orphan going to uhoria via the Blue Highway (FFCC33).

Five stars

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Key Player: 11/26/22

Key Player

Key Player by Kelly Yang (2022) is the fourth book in Front Desk series. Mia Tang is desperate for a good grade in PE so she can keep her spot in the journalist's camp held in San Francisco over the summer. She hopes getting an interview with the women's Chinese soccer team can push her grade from a C to an A.

It's 1999 and the women's world cup of soccer is being played in Pasadena's Rose Bowl. I only vaguely remember the excitement as that was the year that Ian and I moved from South Pasadena to Daly City.

Besides the excitement over the world cup, this volume has insight into Jason's father. When Jason wants to be part owner of the Calvista and the restaurant he's running with Hank, he ends up inviting his father back into a position of power over the Tangs and the other co-owners. This time, though, Mia and Jason are armed with the father's childhood diary where they learn how he became the money obsessed perfectionist he is as an adult.

The most fun, though, was following Mia, Jason, and sometimes Hank as they tried to track down the Chinese team. As this is 1999, finding a team isn't as easy as tracking them on social media. Instead it means a lot of phone calls from Anaheim to hotels, motels, and restaurants in Pasadena. It means legwork and some out of the box thinking.

What makes Mia's success all the more extraordinary is the fact that her life is heavily inspired by the author's own childhood. The afterword always includes photos from her life. This time it's her story how she found the team and met them.

Five stars

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Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 4: 11/25/22

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 4

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 4 by Hinowa Kouzuki and Waka Miyama (Illustrator) (2013) takes on a Noragami feel. Yushi gets into the habit of taking his grimoire to high school and its presence seems to invite paranormal trouble.

Of particular amusement to this reader was Yushi's summoning the fates. Or as my kids call them, the Pizza Goddess and her two sisters, thanks to Ah! My Goddess!. They are rendered very differently here, though they are amusing in their own way.

Yushi's friend, Hase continues to be a regular at the apartment. The two boys are cute together. As much as I try to avoid shipping characters, these two just go together.

Four stars

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Apple Cider Slaying: 11/24/22

Apple Cider Slaying

Apple Cider Slaying by Julie Anne Lindsey and Amy Melissa Bentley (narrator) (2019) is the start of the Cider Shop mystery series. Winnie Mae Montgomery is trying to save the family orchard by opening up a year round shop to cell cider and other products. On the day that the loan officer from the bank is touring, a neighbor ends up murdered in the press room!

Being set on a farm during during a festival and at a time when it's expand or perish, I'm reminded of Farm to Trouble by Amanda Flower (2021). In both cases, the farm's economic viability is directly threatened when a murder happens on the property. As Winnie is living with her grandmother, I'm also reminded of the Cajun Country mysteries by Ellen Byron.

A reader with good situational awareness will be able to recognize who the murderer is well before Winnie Mae does. I had their identity sorted within the first third of the book but still enjoyed the remaining book as Winnie et al came to the same conclusion.

The second book is Pulp Friction (2020).

Five stars

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It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit: 11/22/22

It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit

It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds (2022) is truth in advertising. I really, truly, expected it to be more of a metaphorical title, akin to Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third (2022). But it's not, despite being written in a very similar tone.

Eddie Gordon who has ADHD hates doing his laundry. His mother and stepfather insist that he's old enough to do it himself. So for the summer he has hatched the perfect plan: he'll wear everything he owns even if it looks silly or is out of season until the day of the Beach Bash. That day he'll have his swim trunks. For the remaining couple days of summer, he'll do his laundry.

But... on the day of the Beach Bash his mother finally figures out what he's been up to. Or, I suspect, she knew all along and has waited for this day to point out just how stupid an idea his plan was. Regardless, he ends up stuck at home, by himself, doing all the laundry he should have been doing while the rest of his family (and most of the neighborhood) leave for the annual Beach Bash.

And that's when the power goes out. The power going out is written in such a way that an older reader — someone who has experienced a transformer blowing — will recognize a possible source of the outage. The power being out at first just means Eddie's not going to finish his laundry. He now has no hope of making it to any of the Beach Bash this year.

Even after Eddie hooks up with a few other kids who have been left behind for one reason or another, the novel seems rather pedestrian. It's kids seeing what they can get away with while everyone else is away. None of them even try calling their families until of course all their cellphones' are drained from playing games on them.

That's the set up. It seems like any other end of summer novel of youthful shenanigans. But it isn't. The last fifty pages or so are such a paradigm shift that I was actually shocked down to my very core. This reaction is again, despite the straightforward, no nonsense title. Middle grade titles are often full of histrionics. So I tend to take them with a grain of salt. This one, though, damn!

I hope there's a sequel someday. Right now it ends on a banger of a cliff hanger.

Like his other novels, It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Eddie and his neighbors as children without much in the way of tools or agency are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is home (66) in that they are stuck at home and want to get their families safely home. Their route is the Blue Highway, through the neighborhood streets as they try to figure out what's going on and what they should do.

Five stars

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Bingo Love: 11/21/22

Bingo Love

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin (2018) is a comic about rediscovering a forbidden love after a long life of doing what everyone else expected of you. The book opens with a grand-daughter coming to her grandmother when coming out to her parents didn't go so well. The grandmother then tells her of her own experience.

The comic goes from a near future back to 1963. Hazel meets Mari, a transfer student from somewhere in California. It's love at first site for Hazel. Soon she and Mari are a secret item, knowing full well that their highly religious families won't approve.

Basically they both end up forced to marry men and have children. The back half of the comic is about a chance reunion and what they decide to do then with the rest of their lives. It's bittersweet and left me wishing that they could have had more time together.

Five stars

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Cat-Cat: 11/20/22


Cat-Cat by Gertrude Hevener Gibson (1970) is a book I happened upon while trying (and failing) to help someone find a book they enjoyed as a kid in the 1990s. Although the book had nothing to do with the search parameters (beyond being about a cat), I knew I would love it and got myself a copy via Etsy.

The titular cat lives on C St which he thinks spells Cat. It's his home. He lives with a family of four but he's too interested in the fish and the bird who also live there.

Fed up with Cat-Cat, the father insists the cat has to sleep in the garage. The family complies and the illustration shows the family in a parade, taking Cat-Cat's things out of the kitchen.

Cat-Cat, presumably also frustrated, runs away. Although, if he were like my childhood cats that sometimes got sent to the garage, he was probably hiding in the rafters or similar. Regardless, dad has a change of heart and admits to both liking the cat and missing him.

The book ends with a solution for the fish and bird stalking. It's one that again rang true. The let's assume grandma will take them, combined with the garage scene, really clicked with my childhood. Since the book is three years older than I am, clearly we are products of the same era.

Five stars

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A Sprinkle in Time: 11/19/22

A Sprinkle in Time

A Sprinkle in Time by Dana Mentink and Stephanie Nemeth-Parker (Narrator) (2022) is the second Shake Shop mystery. It's Alpenfest and Trinidad Jones is doing lots of business, keeping those yodelers refreshed and recharged with her Freakshakes. But then her Cuban grandpa finds a body in the trunk of his classic Chevy taxi and Trinidad is back to having to solve another murder.

This mystery follows a popular trend, a modern day mystery being tied to a cold case. This time, it's a murder and a missing woman. Tied up in both are some historic trees and an old rail line, now being used as a tourist stop. The dead man had wanted to add a second rail route which would have required taking down the trees.

Most of this mystery, though, hinges on what one particular character observed. This person happens to be a neural divergent child. How she observes the world is related directly back to what holds her interests most. Trinidad has a good relationship with this girl so is over the course of the novel able to get all the pertinent information from her.

There are also other characters who are outright lying. Some are doing it to protect those they love and others to protect their own self interests. Sussing out who is lying for their own benefit vs for the benefit of others is another key to solving this two part mystery.

As I listened to the audiobook, I should mention that Stephanie Nemeth-Parker does an excellent job of bringing the various characters to life. I especially like how she handles Trinidad's grandfather.

Four stars

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Lost Lad London, Volume 1: 11/18/22

Lost Lad London, Volume 1

Lost Lad London, Volume 1 by Shinya Shima (2021) is a multi-volume murder mystery manga. A university student rides home on the Underground, completely unaware that near him the Lord Mayor of London has been murdered. Soon a detective is at his flat and he's found what's probably the murder weapon in his jacket.

This first volume introduces the situation and the characters. The detective has been injured prior to this mystery. He should be on desk duty but he's drawn to this particular case for unspoken reasons.

The main character is a sullen adoptee. He most of all gives me an ACCA vibe, except that his hair is too dark. His mysterious past will have bearing on the case and how it is ultimately solved. At this point I don't believe he's actually the murderer but he is clearly more closely associated with events that he wants to be.

One nice thing about this series is that the English translation is done in British English. It gives a great authenticity to the story.

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

Five stars

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Turkey Day Murder: 11/17/22

Turkey Day Murder

Turkey Day Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) (2000) is the seventh Lucy Stone mystery book. Thanksgiving is approaching and all Lucy can think of is Toby's return home from college. Meanwhile, Tinker's Cove is abuzz with word that a casino might be going in, if the Metinnicut tribe receives Federal recognition. Things are further complicated when Metinnicut activist Curt Nolan is murdered.

The best part of this particular book was Kudo, the dog Lucy ends up adopting after Nolan's death. Kudo who had earned himself a reputation as a dangerous dog because he killed some chickens, ends up being an absolute sweetie pie, albeit a relatable stubborn one.

The downside of the novel and the series as a whole continues to be Lucy's awful family. None of them offered to help with Thanksgiving — a meal that is difficult for multiple hands to prepare. Her husband especially needs to be punched repeatedly in the face.

Toby's return (along with a host of uninvited college friends) highlights just how much of an ass he is. Now he's an adult ass but Lucy just won't let go of her overblown notions of how special he is. He's growing up to be just like his father and that's not a good thing.

The eighth book is Wedding Day Murder (2001)

Four stars

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You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty: 11/16/22

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi (2022) is tagged as romance but it seems to be written by someone who knows nothing of established tropes and conventions. Feyi Adekola has decided after five years of mourning the death of the "love of her life," she's going to start living again.

Living for her apparently means lots of sex. It means jumping from man to man. First it's a man she meets a party. Then it's his best friend. Ultimately it's the best friend's father.

The ultimate "romance" such as it is, is set against a trip "to the islands." Which islands is never specified but from the basic description, they're probably down in the Caribbean somewhere. I think my initial thoughts posted on Goodreads sums up my take on this novel best:

In the modern genre sense of the word "romance," this book ain't it. It's literary fiction with some romantic tropes. Mostly though it's just a lot of sex and tragedy porn set on an island that seems lifted from Death in Paradise, minus the interesting murder mystery.

Two stars

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My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 4: 11/15/22

My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 4

My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 4 by Shinichi Fukuda and Taylor Engel (Translator) (2019) focuses on the group cosplay with Marin, Juju and Shinju. It shows how Wakana continues to work to improve his skills as a costume designer.

This volume though continues with tropes I personally find tiresome. First there are the vastly different sisters: Juju and Shinju. Juju is short and looks young for her age. She's also completely flat chested. Her younger sister, though, is a head or more taller and endowed with ridiculously large breasts.

So of course this volume Shinju secretly wants to be a cosplayer too but because she's so young and already so curvy, she's reluctant to try. She also doesn't have her older sister's budget and can't bring herself to ask for help. So she turns to Wakana who is eager to help but doesn't have enough experience to have a clear cut solution for her problem.

The cosplay scenario therefor ends with a "humorous" wardrobe failure. Because of course, breasts exploding out of their containment is funny. Not. It's just cliche and dumb. It also objectifies a much younger character.

Four stars

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Death by Café Mocha: 11/14/22

Death by Café Mocha

Death by Café Mocha by Alex Erickson and Melissa Moran (Narrator) (2019) is the seventh book in the Bookstore Cafe mystery series. This volume is another of the books I read during the COVID lockdown and completely forgot to review.

The set up for this mystery is a coffee convention in Maryland. Krissy, Vicki and Rita (for vague reasons) have traveled to the first annual Coffee Con. Things go south, though, when the winner of the blended coffee contest is murdered.

Convention based mysteries are a tough one. On the one hand, they offer a realistic change of location. The amateur sleuth is a professional in some field and many do have conventions. On the other hand, these plots often involve bringing along the wacky cast of characters who drive the plot — thus Rita's inclusion.

The convention Krissy et al attends is only vaguely described. It's really there mostly for setting. From the convention runner's reaction to the murder and other mishaps, it could also be diagetically a poorly run convention.

The mystery and it's setting at a convention strongly reminds me of Cat Me If You Can by Miranda James (2020). Both rely on a change of location

Four stars

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Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows: 11/13/22

Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows

Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows by Tehlor Kay Mejia (2022) is the third book in the series. Paola still needs to rescue Dante but she's having trouble harnessing her powers after the trauma of learning the truth of her family's heritage.

Meanwhile, someone is closing the portals to the dimension where Dante is being held. Paola knows she has to go to battle one last time to keep the portals open and rescue Dante.

It wouldn't be much of a book if Paola never got her abilities back. So eventually she and Emma are traveling east with the Rainbow Rogues to get to the next portal.

This time the main bad guy is el Cucuy, or the Bogeyman. He works by ruining people's reputations through clone versions of his victims. It's sort of like Body Snatchers (1955).

If I were the intended age range, I probably would have enjoyed another rehashing of tropes from the previous two. For this third confrontation, Pao should have access to a bunch of people — an army of helpers with her mother, father and Los Niños, and yet she's heading off with just Emma and a girl she's introduced to through Emma. It felt like too much of a reset.

With that lingering feeling of having been sent back to start the rest of the pacing seemed off. Of the three books, this one was unfortunately a slog to read. Sure, in the end everything wraps up nicely but getting there was a chore.

Chart showing the 3 books on the road narrative spectrum

Like the previous two volumes, Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows sits on the road narrative spectrum. The placement shows just how much of a reset the plot takes in its set up, taking Paola back almost to her orphan traveler status. Instead, though, she's in a scarecrow / minotaur (99) dichotomy. She has a monstrous heritage but still wants to protect her friends, family, and the world. Her journey this time is utopia (FF) again (like the first book) and her route is once again the cornfield (FF).

Five stars

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I Am a Cat Barista, Volume 1: 11/12/22

I Am a Cat Barista, Volume 1

I Am a Cat Barista, Volume 1 by Hiro Maijima (2020) is initially a pun / pastiche on I am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki (1906). In Japanese the manga series is 吾輩は猫である, 職業はバリスタ and the original novel is 吾輩は猫である. Both are explorations on society. The original, during the Meiji era. The manga, the modern day.

The cat barista here runs a cafe with no menu. He serves a similar role as the Midnight Diner. But this café is magical, only appearing to those who need it most.

The chapters themselves are like those in Restaurant to Another World by Junpei Inuzuka and Katsumi Enami (Illustrations). Each chapter is focused on a customer who is going through a rough day or a rough part of their lives. The cat barista serves a drink or a treat based on what will best ease their emotional distress and then he listens to them tell their tale.

Five stars

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Arf: 11/11/22


Arf by Spencer Quinn is the second Bowser and Birdie middle grade mystery. Birdie's mother is home, laid off from her oil rig job after prices tank. Meanwhile someone has broken into the Gaux home and the crime might have ties to murder of Birdie's father in New Orleans.

Of course all of this is told from the point of view of Bowswer, the dog on the cover. Bowser early on knows who the villain, which means we do to. This puts into play Alfred Hitchcock's notion of suspense.

But he's a dog and doesn't know how to communicate his knowledge to Birdie. The lack of easy communication further builds tension in a mystery that's written in an easy, off the cuff manner to appeal to tweens.

This novel also took a turn that I see quite a bit in the cozy mysteries written for adults but didn't expect here. A secondary character, one who is important to the novel but isn't a recurring character is murdered at about the start of the third act.

Even as an adult, Arf is a satisfying read. I have reviewed the first, Woof (2015) and third Bow Wow (2017) books already.

Five stars

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A Poisonous Page: 11/10/22

A Poisonous Page

A Poisonous Page by Kitt Crowe and Tina Wolstencroft (Narrator) (2022) is the second book in the Sweet Fiction Bookshop mystery series. It's summertime which means festival time. Lexi, though, is distracted by three untimely deaths: two of whom were chamber of commerce members. When her friend Dash is accused she knows she and Cookie must investigate!

Lexi's relationship with her dog, Cookie, reminds me of Lady Amy and her dog in the Victorian Book Club series by Callie Hutton. Except this series is contemporary and set in eastern Oregon.

I enjoyed watching Lexi and Cookie work. They are becoming more accepted in their new town and it was nice to have less time spent on both of them being accused of breaking every minor city ordinance.

At sixty percent through the novel, I knew who had done it and why. The pacing and various major plot points were similar to how mysteries are laid out in Midsomer Murders Familiarity with the show as well as all the other mysteries I read probably made the solution more obvious that it otherwise would have been.

That said, the mystery has a fantastic climax. It draws on similar tropes as a typical climax in an Anna Pigeon mystery but also manages to lampshade them. It's the perfect blend of deconstruction and dramatic tension.

Five stars

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The Sound of Thunder: 11/09/22

The Sound of Thunder

The Sound of Thunder by J. Torres and Faith Erin Hicks (Illustrations) (2014) is the conclusion of the Bigfoot Boy graphic novel trilogy. The ravens have the totem and the wolves want it. Meanwhile the forest is being destroyed by developers. Can Rufus, Penny and their squirrel friend save the day?

This volume fills in the blanks in the world building to explain how the totem came to be and why Rufus of all people is the one who can wield it. Honestly, I wasn't expecting such a tidy end and found it refreshing.

There's also an environmental plot where Rufus needs to regain control of the totem to stop the development. I was reminded of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (2002)

Four stars

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Wedding Cake Crumble: 11/08/22

Wedding Cake Crumble

Wedding Cake Crumble by Jenn McKinlay and Susan Boyce (narrator) (2018) is the tenth book in the Cupcake Bakery mystery series. Angie and Tate's wedding is coming up but someone is killing the people they've hired. But then an infamous author is killed and it turns out she had hired the same people.

If the killer had been targeting Angie and Tate, I would have quit both the book and the series. I sighed the hugest sigh of relief when their association with the dead was just coincidence.

While I'm thrilled to see the wedding ultimately go off without a hitch, I'm weirded out by how old fashioned the characters' views are on marriage. Both Angie and Mel relish their upcoming status as being Mrs. husband's name. I can remember the older women in my life railing against being called Mrs. husband's name. They hated how systematically their own identities were erased by becoming their husband's wife, no matter how happily they otherwise were with their marriage.

The mystery revolves around the book the author wrote. It was a fictionalized tell all that's barely fictionalized. Anyone who knows the author and her neighbors will recognize everyone mentioned in the book. The observant reader will spot the murderer when they are introduced.

The eleventh book is Dying for Devil's Food (2019).

Four stars

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Murder Spills the Tea: 11/07/22

Murder Spills the Tea

Murder Spills the Tea by Vicki Delany and Shaina Summerville (Narrator) (2022) is the third book in the Tea by the Sea mystery series. Lily Roberts and her tea shop have been roped into participating in a popular baking show. She's going up against another local bakery and sandwich shop. But before filming is complete, the Scottish judge is murdered in Lily's kitchen.

I don't watch much reality TV and have never seen the Great British Bake Off which is referenced in this novel. I did, happen, though to read the book during the aftermath of the "Mexican Week" debacle. I kept that in mind as Lily experienced first hand the reality show shenanigans.

Murder Spills the Tea was the second reality show comes to the protagonist mystery I've read in recent months. Along with the television mysteries I've seen where it's been a plot (Midsomer Murders and Death in Paradise for example), I can feel myself groaning when this plot surfaces. There are definite tropes associated with a TV production. I worry that if this set up continues to popular I will end up feeling about them as I do about boxing episodes.

What led to me giving a top rating to this book was Lily's absolute disdain for reality shows and the whole situation. She really was bullied into participating. Her jaded attitude gave her the wherewithal to question every one and every situation making the solution both obvious and entertaining.

Five stars

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H is for Hawk: 11/06/22

H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is a memoir about grief and falconry. Specially it's about goshawks. Ultimately it's about a goshawk named Mabel. But — I didn't get that far.

The memoir opens on a beautifully described scene of birding in a woodland north of Cambridge. She describes the journey there, the walk through the woods. She focuses on the various mosses and so forth. Then a goshawk flies overhead, a rare site.

Her trip ends with learning that her father died suddenly while on a photoshoot in London. The remainder of the chapter is Macdonald's grief and her thoughts on the word and the awful mundanity of carrying on after a loved one dies. She talks about having to track down her father's car and finding it in an impound and then explaining why he had abandoned it.

And then the book gets mired in Macdonald's memories of how she got interested in falconry and specifically goshawks. She explains the history of the birds and how falconry saved them from extinction in the wild. It should be interesting — I like birds, I paint birds. But —

In 1951 T.H. White wrote a book a book about goshawks, called, of course, The Goshawk. The book, while not a popular one from the author best known for The Once and Future King (1938), made a huge impression on MacDonald. H is for Hawk settles into being a very boring and very wordy book report on White's book.

It took me three days to get to page 34. So here I am admitting defeat.

One star

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Room to Dream: 11/05/22

Room to Dream

Room to Dream by Kelly Yang (2021) is the third book in the Front Desk series. The Tangs are headed to Beijing for vacation, a chance to see family for the first time since emigrating to the United States. At home and abroad, beloved neighborhoods are facing gentrification.

This is the mid 1990s before the internet started to take off. It's on the cusp of the tech boom. This is when chains started to grow without check.

In Anaheim, the Tangs see gentrification first hand when the motels nearest them are purchased by a chain and then their own motel is given an offer that is hard to refuse. They also see local Mom and Pop businesses close or be forced to move to less desirable locations. In Beijing Mia is shocked to see similar levels of gentrification. Her grandparents are holding on to their traditional home while friends and family are leaving for new apartments. Mia's parents are put under pressure to help relocate the parents.

Through all of this, Mia discovers a new outlet for her writing. Though she gains an audience, she also has to learn about journalistic ethics. She might also risk her friendships home in Anaheim. I did love the ingenuity that went into saving Calivista.

The fourth book is Key Player (2022).

Five stars

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Bird & Squirrel All Together: 11/04/22

Bird & Squirrel All Together

Bird & Squirrel All Together by James Burks (2022) is the seventh book in the graphic novel series. Bird goes on one last adventure with Squirrel and his family before finally heading south for the winter.

This last adventure is more caper than anything else. While out and about the duo finds a treasure map. Squirrel takes a night to decide if he will go and if it will be safe enough for his family. He reluctantly agrees only after crafting an agenda and safety protocol that is quite the tome.

After everything Squirrel has successfully been through, it was odd to see him regress into full panic mode. But some of this was more a comment on how much he loves and wants to protect his family. Family can make a person (or squirrel) more cautious.

Regardless of the possibly out of character moment for Squirrel, the book is entertaining. I love a good caper / treasure hunt story. The gags were silly. The timing was perfect. The art was beautiful.

This volume feels like a conclusion but I said that with Bird & Squirrel On Fire (2017). If an eighth book is released, I will definitely read it.

Five stars

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Noragami: Stray God, Volume 15: 11/03/22

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 15

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 15 by Adachitoka (2016) is the last volume I read over the summer of 2022. Yato, now the owner of a shrine, albeit a wee one, is qualified to attend the Divine Council's meeting. He's thrilled to go even if his status as a God of Happiness is in dispute following the aftermath of the hospital attack.

After the previous heavy hitting volumes, this one is a lighter affair. There is still the lingering threat to Yato's wellbeing if his "father" is killed. And there's the on-going feeling that he should avoid Hiyori. But all of that is downplayed in this one.

Instead the focus is on the variety of deities that attend the event. There is also a banquet to give out awards for the most successful deities for the previous year. One of the awards goes to a very special former station cat.

Finally we have Stationmaster Tama. Everything that Ôkuniushi says about her is true — Tama was a cat born in 1999 and was appointed as the stationmaster of Kishi Station in Wakayama Prefecture in 2007. Her popularity was a great boon to the failing rail line, and she single-pawedly earned over a billion yen (about $10 million) for her local economy. Sadly she passed away in 2015, but then was enshrined as a local deity.

For now this is where I stop with reading and reviewing Noragami until I get the urge to check out a bunch more from the library. The series is on-going with volume 26 coming out in Japanese next year. Volume 25 in English translation also comes out around then.

Four stars

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Castle Shade: 11/02/22

Castle Shade

Castle Shade by Laurie R. King is the seventeenth book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. It opens on a train with Mary confused and feverish. Eventually she learns that she and Sherlock are headed towards Romania for a case. They've been hired by that country's queen to investigate rumors of vampires terrorizing the village near the summer castle.

Like Mary, I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the mention of vampires. Of course Mary had coincidentally started reading Dracula on her trip. So rational Mary's head is now full of nightmarish images. Vampires in a mystery set in Romania is as frustratingly cliche as witches in a Tony Hillerman mystery.

Discounting the vampires, the mystery itself is a man presumed dead during the Great War has appeared in the village. Meanwhile there are ghostly events happening in the castle. As the building is old, most people are just accepting these noises and strange occurrences as part and parcel of living in a structure with history.

Me, though, I jumped right to my favorite horror film: Housebound (2014). If it's not a ghost, then there's someone living in the castle, lurking around at hours when everyone else is asleep. If this person needs to be hiding, then there is a living person with access to the castle who is dangerous. The tl/dr version, is yes, it's Housebound but in a Romanian castle.

Except it's not nearly as fun as the film. It's long and full of unnecessary padding. I get that the author did her research. I get that Mary as a character has been set up to be one who loves to explain everything. But this novel had too much information and too many discussions on how similar Romanian is to Latin.

Three stars

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October 2022 Sources: 11/02/22

Previous month's book sources

October was another good month for reading, though not quite at September's levels. I am well on my way to meeting my typical 300 goal, now being at 270 books read for the year.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In October I read 20 TBR books, up from September's 18 TBR. One book was published in October. Four books were for research. Three were from the library. My ROOB score for September, -4, is slightly higher than the previous month: -4.07 It's tied for my second best October in 13 years of tracking this metric.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I did exactly as I had predicted for October. I a -4 and that's how the reading turned out. Given September's success, I'm predicting a -4.0 for October. For November, I'm going to predict a -4.5 as it's traditionally one of my best months.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for October improved from -2.29 to -2.42.

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Drew LeClair Gets a Clue: 11/01/22

Drew LeClair Gets a Clue

Drew LeClair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury and Devon Hales (Narrator) (2022) is the start of a new middle grade mystery series set in Oakland, California. Drew was named for Nancy Drew. She loves mysteries and loves profiling people. When a cyberbully starts targeting her school she has the distraction she needs to avoid thinking about her mother who has run off with the school's counselor.

Drew hero worships a local investigator and author, Lita Miyamoto. In her own investigation she references Miyamoto's, In the Shadow of a Killer in which she recounts how she tracked down the Junipero Valley Killer. More on that later.

The setting, a school, the crime, cyberbullying, and the protagonist, a school aged girl, makes this a middle grade book. The tropes, basic outline and pacing of events, even the family trouble, are all things common to the types of cozy mysteries I regularly read.

One fantastic bonus is the setting. It's set in Oakland — a recognizable Oakland. Drew and her father talk about local landmarks and events. She even mentions going to Redwood Regional — not something I've ever seen in a novel before. The local color brings this book to life.

But I listened to the audiobook. This now is the second audiobook this year with California places — meaning Spanish words and names. Like the narrator for Nacho Average Murder, Devon Hales butchers some basic Spanish pronunciations. Especially annoying was listening to her mangling of Junipero, as in the "Junipero Valley Murderer" a phrase that shows up in nearly every chapter. I am taking one star off my review for Hales's performance.

The second book in the series is Drew LeClair Crushes the Case and is scheduled for release on April 18, 2023.

Four stars

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October 2022 Summary: 11/01/22

Reading report

October meant flu and COVID. We're starting off November with the tail end of COVID. November might also mean a kitchen redesign if we can squeeze it in without impacting Thanksgiving.

I read fewer books in October, 28, down from 30 in the previous month. Of my read books, eighteen were diverse. I reviewed 30 books, the same as the previous month. On the reviews front, twenty qualified. Six read and five reviewed books were queer.

I have fifty-one books left to review of the 270 books I've read this year.

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