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January 2023

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

Beat the Backlist 2023

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Prancer the Demon Chihuahua: 01/31/23

Prancer the Demon Chihuahua

Prancer the Demon Chihuahua by Pam Pho and Cloris Chou (Illustrations) (2023) is a picture book about the life and times of an Instagram famous chihuahua. I come to this book, not from my fandom for the dog, her antics or fashion sense. Instead, I read the book because I've been friends with the author for about fifteen years.

Through Pam's text and Cloris Chou's adorable illustrations we learn about Prancer's demonic reputation and how Prancer came into Ariel's life.

Interspersed with the story are activities to further your understanding of what it takes to be Prancer. These are cute and similar in tone to the Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book (2013) or the many Pusheen books.

There's a second book, Prancer the Demon Chihuahua: MORE Jokes, MORE Fun! which comes out in June.

Five stars

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Passion, Betrayal And Killer Highlights: 01/30/23

Passion, Betrayal And Killer Highlights

Passion, Betrayal And Killer Highlights by Kyra Davis and Gabra Zackman (Narrator) (2006) is the second book in the Sophie Katz Murder mystery series. This time Sophie is trying to help clear her sister's name after her husband is murdered. Of course she also ropes in P.I. Anatoly Darinsky.

Like so many mysteries of the early twenty-first century, the murder victim, though closely related to the accused ends up being both utterly awful and completely surprising to the person who should have known him best. By the end of the book it's fairly well established that the dead brother-in-law didn't have a single moral fiber in his body.

Leah is everything Sophie isn't. She's proud of being a housewife. She knows how to play societal politics to her and her family's advantage. She's constantly thinking about her reputation and how it reflects on her family and their status. Coming to realize her husband didn't take their marriage as seriously as she did brings repeated blows to her confidence and world view.

What both sisters share, though, is their blended ethnicity as Black Jewish women. Leah, who up to the murder of her husband had eschewed both sides of her heritage, now has the emotional need to embrace both.

There's one other roadblock to solving the mystery efficiently, Leah's infant son. He proves to be a handful — especially for Sophie who has no interest in having children. He's constantly in the background destroying one thing or another. He could have absolutely ruined the pacing of the novel but most of his mayhem comes from understandable inattentiveness on the part of the adults around him.

The third novel is Obsession, Deceit, and Really Dark Chocolate (2007).

Five stars

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All Fudged Up: 01/29/23

All Fudged Up

All Fudged Up by Nancy CoCo and Vanessa Johansson (Narrator) (2013) is the start of the Candy-Coated mystery series. Allie McMurphy has returned to Mackinac Island to run her family's hotel and fudge shop.

She had hoped to work alongside her grandfather but he died suddenly. Now as she's trying to get ready for the summer season, she finds herself face to face with another dead body, her father's best friend and sometime rival.

This first mystery is secondary to setting the stage. It introduces the island, its history and its unique culture. That doesn't leave room for a complex mystery. That said, it's still a satisfying one to solve.

The second book is To Fudge or Not to Fudge (2014).

Four stars

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August Kitko and the Mechas from Space: 01/28/23

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White (2022) is a queer space opera that mixes mechas and music theory. Put another way, it's queer Macross.

Gus Kitko is a jazz pianist hired to play during Earth's swan song. The invading Vanguards are coming and so far nothing humanity has done has worked so this is it. Ardent Violet, rockstar and Gus's significant other, is also there to witness the end.

Except they're both fantastic musicians and skilled in various complex ways of playing music. Their skills with music is what makes them perfect candidates to pilot the Vanguards who have gone rogue, realizing that killing all humans might not be the best plan in the universe.

If you're my age, aliens communicating with music isn't anything new. You're probably thinking:

In Alex White's novel, the solution is more like:

And I am 100% down for the music nerds turning big damn hero and saving the universe.

Along with the epic battles across space, Gus and Violet are an adorable couple. They're not the ideal romance book couple. They're messy and into their separate lives but they will drop everything to help each other when needed.

This novel also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Gus and Violet and the other human Vanguards are scarecrow (protector) travelers (99). Their destination is utopia (FF), both literally, in trying to find human survivors that have been cut off from communication, and metaphorically in the form of an end to the war. Their route there is through the labyrinth (99) in that their relationship with their respective Vanguards is a transformative one.

Four stars

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Sweetness and Lightning Volume 2: 01/27/23

Sweetness and Lightning Volume 2

Sweetness and Lightning Volume 2 by Gido Amagakure and Adam Lensenmayer (Translator) (2014) covers the time that Kohei is feeling more comfortable cooking for himself and his daughter. In doing so, though, he realizes he needs to find recipes that will taste good to her but include vegetables.

Although the initial message seems to be, find ways to hide vegetables, instead, it becomes food is tastier when you cook it yourself. By including Tsumugi in the cooking process at home and at the restaurant, she gets to learn what goes into food and begins to have a new relationship with food.

This volume also expands the character roster. We meed Kotori's mother (briefly). We meed a man who sometimes babysits Tsumugi. We meet children at the daycare and we meet Kotori's best friend from high school.

Recipes included are potstickers, vegetables with Béchamel sauce, doughnuts, and squid stew.

Five stars

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Scuffy the Tugboat: 01/26/23

Scuffy the Tugboat

Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton (1946) is one of my favorite Little Golden Books. It was part of my mother's childhood library which I then added to and later my brother added to. Color me delighted to see it available now as an ebook.

Scuffy is a toy tugboat who dreams of adventure. The owner of the toy store where he's waiting to be sold decides to take him to a stream. What follows is Scuffy's trip down stream towards the ocean.

Women washing laundry in the creek. Two cows standing down stream. One cow is looking at Scuffy.

What makes this book for me are the illustrations by Tibor Gergely (1900-1978). His beautifully rendered landscapes full of animals, people, trees, flowers, architecture and vehicles brings the child along for Scuffy's adventure. The use of darker, more saturated hues highlights the growing danger the tugboat is in as he approaches the ocean.

Gertrude Crampton and Tibor Gergely collaborated on another favorite of mine, Tootle the Engine (1945). He also wrote and illustrated, Busy Day, Busy People (1973), another oft-read book of mine.

Five stars

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Pashmina: 01/25/23


Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (2017) is a graphic novel about a teenage girl trying to understand her mother and the help she receives through a magical pashmina. Priyanka Das wants to know about India and her mother's life before moving the United States. Her mother, however, refuses to answer her questions.

After experiencing India through the pashmina, making friends with spirits, her mother relents and lets her go. Priyanka's experience isn't what she expected but it's still enlightening. It also gives her a chance to pass on the pashmina to those who will benefit from it.

Pri's journey to India both via the pashmina and in person, puts the graphic novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Pri is one of a group of marginalized travelers (66). As the pashmina gives the wearer a full body experience of a different time, the destination is uhoria (CC). The route there is an offroad one (66).

Five stars

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Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 3: League of Shadows: 01/24/23

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 3: League of Shadows

Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 3: League of Shadows by James Tynion IV (2017) focuses on Cassandra Cain's dark past. It's a melodrama fest.

I really dislike how comics pull this shit on female characters. There are plenty of male characters already with messed up backstories. Cassandra Cain's, though, seems to take the typical male story and turn it up to eleven.

So volume three is grimmer and darker and angstier than the previous two combined. Cain and Supergirl should sit down for tea or maybe a few stiff drinks and compare notes. Her story is just as unnecessarily dark and incoherent as Supergirl: The Girl of Steel (2005). I guess once a decade or so, it's time to torture another female character for teh dramaz.

The fourth volume is Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 4: Deus Ex Machina (2017).

Three stars

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The Wrong Kind of Weird: 01/23/23

The Wrong Kind of Weird

The Wrong Kind of Weird by James Ramos (2023) is a YA update on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813). It's set in Minnesota in a high school, with protagonist Cameron Carson taking the role as Jane Bennett.

To drive home the pastiche, or at least clue the reader in, Cam's school is putting on a play based on Austen's novel. This isn't, though, a book about a play based on a book. The play is there as a thematic hook but it's not the point.

Instead the point is the culture class between different high school cliques. You find your spot and you stay in your spot and the different subgroups don't mingle — ever. That's how these stories are set up (even if my experience as both a high schooler and parent of two high schoolers never bore this trope out in reality).

Cam has broken this cardinal rule by dating a popular girl on the down-low and later making friends with another popular girl when she reveals her true geeky nature. The popular girl geek, Mackenzie, is of course, our Mr. Darcy for this retelling.

Although I'm still not much a fan of the source material, nor have I seen the Colin Firth version, I think The Wrong Kind of Weird falls short as a novel by not leveraging its connection to Austen more. There's so much more that could have been done to discuss class, race, cliques, etc that are only brushed upon here. Instead, much of this novel gets distracted by Cam's mixed feelings about becoming sexually active when his secret girlfriend suggests it.

Three stars

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Pulp Friction: 01/22/23

Pulp Friction

Pulp Friction by Julie Anne Lindsey and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) (2020) is the second book in the Cider Shop mystery series. Winona Mae Montgomery's cider shop is thriving and the family farm is on its way to be profitable again.

They've also started hosting events at the farm. A wedding went off beautifully but ends in tragedy when the groom is struck and killed by the truck set aside to be the "get-away car." Worse set, Winona's childhood friend, Hank, appears to be the prime suspect and even she has to admit he was acting suspiciously.

This is the sixth wedding gone wrong mystery I've read in the last six months or so. Of those, half of them end up with with the groom being murdered and the other half end up with someone else being murdered. I prefer the someone else being murdered, given the choice.

Of the wedding themed murder mysteries I've read this year, Pulp Friction reminds me most of Clammed Up by Barbara Ross (2013). Both have the crimes happening at the venue site and to the groom. Both feature dead men with sketchy pasts that provide ample sources of red herrings.

The third book is The Cider Shop Rules (2021).

Four stars

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A Galaxy Next Door, Volume 1: 01/21/23

Galaxy Next Door, Volume 1

A Galaxy Next Door, Volume 1 by Gido Amagakure (2020) brings together a mangaka and an extraordinary assistant. Ichiro Kuga has been supporting his siblings by renting out rooms and selling his manga. With a deadline looming, he needs to hire help.

Shiori Goshiki is beyond Ichiro's expectations. She's efficient and talented. She works well under his instructions. Together they end up pulling an all nighter.

But when Ichiro wakes up the next morning, he thinks he sees that his assistant has been stabbed by one of his fountain pens. When he goes to remove it, he finds himself stung and suddenly engaged to his assistant!

That's the set up to the series. The remainder of this first volume is Ichiro learning about his unusual assistant and deciding what he should do about his new situation.

It's a fun set up. I like the added metafiction details of what it takes to produce manga. Ichiro is stubbornly holding onto traditional media for his books. His editor is pushing for him to move to digital. The author mentions in the back of book that this volume was his first foray into digital comic production.

Four stars

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The Collectors: 01/20/23

The Collectors

The Collectors by Jacqueline West (2018) is the first book in a duology about the power of wishes. Van as a small, quiet, hard of hearing kid who travels the world with his opera star mother, is one who is usually overlooked by others. He is used to being ignored and good at observing. It's his powers of observation that leads to the collectors.

People aren't supposed to be able to see the animals and people who work together to capture wishes before they can cause trouble. Van, though, can see them as plain as day. He can even follow them into their hidden places.

As with so many children's books that feature an extraordinary child, or perhaps and ordinary one capable of one extraordinary thing, this one puts Van in the middle of an age old war. Neither side wants to be completely frank about what they are doing or why they are doing it. Van (and the reader) is left to decide who is right and who is wrong. He has to take sides without knowing who is keeping things from him for his protection and who is doing it to manipulate him.

The way in which Van's actions and those actions done to him are described remind me of two adult books I've read. The first is The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin (1971) for how the changes in the world as described primarily through descriptive text are related directly back to a person in a position of trust and authority. The second is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996) in the way that the theme of the novel is hidden in plain sight through descriptive wordplay.

Van's time with the collectors also happens to sit on the road narrative spectrum. Van finds himself in a Scarecrow / Minotaur dichotomy (99) as a traveler. He wishes to be a protector but he might end up doing monstrous things if he picks the wrong side. His journey takes him through the city (00), his current adopted home. His route though, is the maze, in that it is a changeable, secretive path, fraught with traps and quite dangerous.

The second book is A Storm of Wishes (2019).

Five stars

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A Tale of Two Kitties: 01/19/23

A Tale of Two Kitties

A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly and Cassandra Campbell (Narrator) (2017) is the ninth book in the Magical Cats mystery series. Victor, Leo's brother returns decades after being run out of town for his affair with Leo's wife. Shortly after Victor arrives, promising to reconcile, Leo is murdered.

For reasons that are beyond me, the police decide Leo's son, Simon, is the murderer. Maybe I just read and watch too many mysteries but the obvious solution was there from the time Kathleen first discovers Simon's body.

In fact the mystery seemed like the B plot with the A plot being Kathleen's interest in figuring out why certain Wisteria hill cats have supernatural powers. She also seems close to telling her boyfriend that his cat like her two can do some remarkable things.

The dramatic conclusion to this book seemed to come out of the blue, much like the climax of Wedding Day Murder by Leslie Meier (2001). The killer could have kept quiet and gone home and gotten away with the murder.

The tenth book is The Cats Came Back (2018).

Three stars

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Mazebook: 01/18/23


Mazebook by Jeff Lemire (2022) follows a lonely building inspector as he grieves for his daughter who succumbed to illness. The daughter loved to solve mazes and its through the solving of the one she left unfinished that he's finally able to come to terms with her death.

Like Underwater Welder (2012) and Roughneck, Mazebook uses a physical exploration of the world as a means of metaphorical transformation. This exploration, through the last remaining puzzle — actually a labyrinth, in that it has one path in and out, also puts Mazebook on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

The man, wishing to see his daughter again, and perhaps rescue her from her fate, is a scarecrow traveler (99) and this is further amplified by the inclusion of minotaur iconography throughout. His destination is the city, in that he's exploring the same city buildings he's been inspecting for years, but through a very different map (the labyrinth) (00). His route there is the labyrinth.

While sometimes Lemire goes for the very literal approach to his otherworldly explorations, this time his hero can't succeed in bringing back his daughter. The dead remain dead. But he does manage to find a way to move on, and is able to help a neighbor who is certainly his friend by the end of the book, and quite possibly more.

Five stars

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Wretched Waterpark: 01/17/23

Wretched Waterpark

Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White (2022) is the start of Sinister Summer series. The Sinister-Winterbottom siblings: Theo, Alexander, and Wil, have been sent to their Aunt Saffronia. She in turn sends them to a gothic themed waterpark to solve a mystery. What it is, though, she won't tell them.

From the very start they realize things are off. They're forced to wear chained collars instead of the usual paper bracelets. There are no churros. There's only one restaurant and it makes you dress up, only to serve nasty, old fashioned food.

But those are only minor annoyances compared to bigger problems. The founder's husband, Mr. Widow, is missing, presumed drowned in the wave pool cave. Employees randomly don't show up to work. And there's a rumor that if you run, you'll disappear.

The overall vibe of the waterpark is that of Legends of Eerie-on-Sea by Thomas Taylor. The siblings, though, remind me of the Vanderbeekers.

While the majority of the mystery was focused on the waterpark, there's something bigger at stake that's hinted at but left unspoken. There are gaps in time or the apparent use of magic but the siblings haven't been told what's really going on. Clues are left to observant readers to infer. I hope later books dig into the larger world.

This first volume, though, does also sit on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The travelers are the siblings (CC). Their destination is Uhoria (CC) as they need to figure out what happened at the waterpark before they got there. Their route is the maze (CC) as represented by the waterpark itself.

The second book is Vampiric Vacation (2022).

Five stars

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Clammed Up: 01/16/23

Clammed Up

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross and Dana Rosenberg (Narrator) (2013) is the start of the Maine Clambake Mystery series. Julia Snowden has returned to Busman's Harbor in a panic. Her family's clambake business is failing after her brother in law made some terrible investments. They have just this summer to save the business.

Before the season even officially opens, things are looking up. Julia's been hired by a wedding party. They want to be married on her family's island and host the reception as part of a private clambake. All that potential money is dashed when Julia finds the groom hanging dead in the old family mansion.

I found Julia's constant threats from the loan officer extremely stressful. Having only a certain number of days when the business could be closed was a huge motivating factor for Julia to turn amateur sleuth.

This is an island based murder, one where only a handful of people have regular access to the area. It's not far removed from a more typical locked room mystery. So the question becomes why and when, rather than who, even if it took Julia longer to reach the logical conclusion.

The second book is Boiled Over (2014).

Four stars

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A Circle of Quiet: 01/15/23

A Circle of Quiet

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle is the start the Crosswicks Journals. The blurb promises thoughtful reflections on life and career prompted by her time at a place near her country home. Yes — but

The first chapter was fairly delightful. It begins with her needing time away from her boisterous family and taking a hike through the meadows and fields behind her home. She describes the nature she sees and she ruminates on ontology of all things.

I should have known the book would go off the rails. The opening in tone and topic is similar to another horribly disappointing memoir, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014). The pastoral opening is a bait and switch for a rambling diatribe couched in passive aggressive politeness.

The next vignette tells of an out of town family who moves to her small town. They don't fit in because they're liberal, over achieving atheists who are raising horrible children. Of course they end up suffering a tragic house fire.

Except, and here's the kicker, she admits to making the whole thing up! She admits to mixing together bits and pieces of different families to tell this tragic tale. And yet, despite her fabrication, she goes onto insist that life can only be happy and fulfilling with God.

I gave up after that. I can get the same fictional take on small town Maine values from the Lucy Stone mysteries. At least there we can all agree that the story is fiction from stat to finish.

The second book in this series is The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (1974).

Two stars

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Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 1: 01/14/23

Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 1

Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 1 by Jun Mayuzuki and Amanda Haley (Translator) (2020) is a seinen manga set in Kowloon, a walled city. Reiko Kujirai, a real estate agent who loves the taste of watermelon when paired with a cigarette is finding herself falling in love with a coworker who is caught up in the cult of nostalgia. And that's when things get weird.

This first volume has a similar vibe to Dark City (1998). Kowloon seems to be a self contained entity, one that is past its prime and is now propping itself up on the power of nostalgia.

In the background of the rather generic (at first glance) office romance plot, is a corporation, Generic Terra. It's mostly a subject of office conversation, something discussed on the radio, and a visual reminder in the form of a mascot, Gene Terra. Clearly, though, Generic Terra is a bigger, all encompassing thing, as hinted at by the shocking end of this novel.

Volume one also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The office coworkers are a traveling couple (33). Their destination is uhoria (CC). Their route is the maze (CC), as evidenced by the ending, which I won't spoil here.

Five stars

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Socks: 01/13/23


Socks by Beverly Cleary (1973) was mentioned lovingly in a couple recent books I read. Although the book is as old as I am, I haven't read much Beverly Cleary. I decided the references were a sign from the universe that I should rectify this by at least reading Socks.

Socks is a tabby striped kitten. The girl who is selling him and his siblings wants to keep him and does everything she can think of to distract people from picking him. It doesn't work and he's taken home by Mr. and Mrs. Bricker, newlyweds.

If the pre-Bricker era is the first act of the novel, the two others are Socks as the only "baby" in the house, and the birth of Charles William.

Like Charles William, I was the second "baby" in the house, with a black house panther, Maxwell Smart, being the first. He was a year older than me and grew to adulthood just as I entered his life. For Socks, the human baby means leftover formula and weight gain from it. It also means less lap time and being forced to sleep in the laundry room again.

There's a gentle humor about this novel. While not told from strictly Sock's point of view, Cleary deftly conveys what he's thinking and feeling. The ending, too, shows how human babies can come to be a pet's best ally, to hilarious and disastrous results for the human adults in the household.

Five stars

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Blind Descent: 01/12/23

Blind Descent

Blind Descent by Nevada Barr and Barbara Rosenblat (Narrator) (1998) is the sixth Anna Pigeon mystery. It's set primarily in the Lechuguilla Cavern which is part of Carlsbad Cavern National Park. Anna has been called in to be the lady in waiting on a rescue of her friend from deep within the cave. Once found, her friend insists her accident was no accident. She also makes a cryptic report of something else wrong in the cave system. And then a tragic rock fall kills her friend, thus rendering the rescue into a recovery.

My main complaint about this book is that it's about seventy-five to a hundred pages too long. Or in terms of the audiobook I listened to, about three hours too long. The start and end of the novel is heavily padded with excruciating details of how caving works. Every time they go on and off rope. Every climb up and down. Every pit stop. Every time a lantern is turned on or off. Every damn crystal formation. Every minute way a person can damage a cave.

In comparison, the above ground stuff, which happens to involve a second murder and a missing person's case, is done on fast-forward. There the focus seems more on what Anna eats, when she sleeps and when she drinks (since she's a recovering alcoholic).

Every once in a while, the novel even remembers that it's a mystery and some investigating is done. But here's the thing, these Anna Pigeon mysteries are, as I've mentioned before, extremely predictable.

Before Anna and the others had even found her friend I knew how the novel would play out. First, the friend would die on the way back and Anna would be injured. Then Anna would hem and haw about what to do and finally decide to investigate. In the meantime she'd be chewed out for what she did or didn't do. Someone else would die and Anna would be injured again. Something would lead Anna back into Lechuguilla Cavern where she would again be injured (and nearly killed) while being attacked by the murderer / mastermind. And then there would be a quick-ish wrap up.

As the book did in fact play out just as I knew it would, listening to the second descent into the cave was painful. Barbara Rosenblat does a wonderful job and while she remains one of my favorite narrators, I decided at the 2/3 point of this one to switch back to print versions. Print is easier to skim and these Anna Pigeon mysteries often need skimming.

The seventh book is Liberty Falling (1999). As I've read it and reviewed it, I'm moving on to book eight, Deep South (2000).

Three stars

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Harmony and Heartbreak: 01/11/23

Harmony and Heartbreak

Harmony and Heartbreak by Claire Kann (2023) is the first book in the Suitehearts middle grade fantasy series. Cousins Rose and Cora live in the Hotel Coeur in San Francisco where they are training to be matchmakers. With the arrival of a red envelope each, the stakes are high — they either pass or they lose their magic!

Claire Kann builds a world here with a matchmaking culture similar that in Roselle Lim's adult romances, but with an underlying magical society that reminds me of Claribel A. Ortega's Witchlings (2022).

Like the matchmakers in Lim's novels, Cora has feelings for one of her Kindlings. Unfortunately for her she doesn't have the option of following her heart. She does, though, however, live in a world where there isn't one true match for everyone. She's also young and knows it — knows despite her feelings she's not ready for a relationship

Although most of the novel takes place in the hotel and at their school, Kann's version of San Francisco rings true. She gets its culture and geography. Maybe in later books we'll get to see more of the City.

Five stars

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Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche: 01/10/23

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer and Tamaryn Payne (Narrator) (2021) is the seventh book in the Enola Holmes series. Ten years ago I finished reading Enola Holmes and the Case of the Gypsy Good-bye (2010) and was saddened by it being the conclusion of a fun Sherlock Holmes inspired series. Color me surprised in 2021 when I was alerted to a new one in the series!

Over the course of the previous six books, Sherlock and Enola did come to an understanding. By book seven, they are sometimes working together, mostly at Watson's behest. Case in point, Sherlock is in one of his depressive slumps, so Watson is hoping she can bring her brother around.

While Enola is visiting, a woman comes to hire Sherlock, but it's Enola who takes the case. In a set up that at first sounded like Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020), but ends up being something completely different.

The gist is, the woman's twin sister has unexpectedly died. She and her family are told that her body was too infectious for a normal burial so she had to be cremated. The twin sister doesn't believe a word of this story and hires Enola and Sherlock to find out the truth.

The mystery requires Enola's specialized skills as well as Sherlock's privilege as a man of means. Even Dr. Watson has some sway, being able to leverage his authority and reputation as a doctor.

The eighth book is Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade (2022).

Five stars

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Book, Line and Sinker: 01/09/23

Book, Line and Sinker

Book, Line and Sinker by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) (2012) is the third book in the Library Lover's mystery series. The promise of pirate treasure has brought a salvage company to Briar Creek and nearby Pirate Island. The town is quickly divided by those desperate for jobs and those wanting to save the fragile island environment.

In terms of basic plot structure it's very similar to the recently published Sugar and Vice by Eve Calder (2020). Both have the promise of pirate treasure combined with two mysteries: a modern day murder and a cold case.

Jenn's status as a recent arrival, being only in her second year as the library director, means she lacks the full range of local knowledge that others in her life have. It lessens her ability to infer correctly from information she's presented with. As she is our main source of information, it makes her a somewhat unreliable narrator.

Based on some wrong conclusions that Jenn makes and based on others taking advantage of her confusion, this third entry in the Library Lover's series made for a decent mystery. I wasn't able to see the solution. So to some degree the solution comes as a surprise, but a satisfying one.

The fourth book is Read it and Weep (2013).

Four stars

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Picturing a Nation: 01/08/23

Picturing a Nation

Picturing a Nation by Martin W. Sandler (2021) is a coffee table book that highlights the photographic work of the FSA hired photographers during the Depression. The blurb promises to be "full color" but primarily isn't.

In 1935, color photography was still cutting edge, expensive and outside the bounds of most photographers, even professionals. So calling this book "full colors" discounts the fact that most of the of the photos taken to record the events of the Great Depression were taken in black and white.

This book is divided up into regions, regions that mimic the way the actual FSA project was divvied up. Each chapter then presents things thematically, jumping from photographer to photographer as the subject / theme demands.

There's also an included history, both of the events depicted as well as the careers of the photographer's included. Neither, though, is very extensive. This is really more of a sample plate of photographs rather than a comprehensive look at the FSA archive or how well it accomplished (or not) it's stated goal.

The book also has quotes from the photographers on their works. These are interesting but also rather fluffy. Without a more solid foundation behind the quotes, the entire book reads like inspiration porn. It's still interesting and would still be a good introduction for readers new the FSA project or the Great Depression.

Four stars

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The Moon and Sixpence: 01/07/23

The Moon and Sixpence

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham is a novel about a man's encounter with a reclusive artist. It's somewhat inspired by Paul Gaugin's life.

The man in question is banker turned artist, Charles Strickland. The narrator — and adoring fan — though spends so much time early on making the narrative about himself that I lost interest in the novel before it had even truly started.

Stylistically the novel is written in a manner similar to Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928). I think their similarity is in part a function of when they were written and first published. They aren't that much different from how Watson acts as Holmes's biographer in all of the Arthur Conan Doyle novels and short stories.

What differs between these three is the method and content. Woolf's narrator is attempting to write an impossible biography of a life that spans centuries and has gaps in the flow of time. Watson's accounts of his adventures with Sherlock Holmes are not too removed from the modern day cozy, thus making them extremely entertaining, and by their very nature of being written for a weekly, short and quick reads.

W. Somerset Maugham's foray into this type of writing is very different. It's very dry and very self absorbed. The oh so subtle implication is that he, Maugham, is a fan of Gaugin. Rather than reveal just how stalkery his inclinations are, he has instead lovely written a novel that highlights the artist's rise to greatness. It's stoic and staid, and oh so very literary. It's also self absorbed and boring as fuck.

One star

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Every Bird a Prince: 01/06/23

Every Bird a Prince

Every Bird a Prince by Jenn Reese (2022) is an urban fantasy set in Oregon. Eren and her mother live on the edge of a forest where she loves to ride her bike. While out on one of her adventures she rescues a frostbitten bird and becomes their champion against an invasion of Frostfangs.

Besides being a fantasy of icy wolf creatures vs. epic birds and a plucky teenager on her BMX, there's also a plot involving a dance, crushes, and peer pressure. Eren's two BFFs have decided the upcoming school dance will be the time and place to have their first dates.

The one who is most boy crazy has decided the other two should invite their crushes so that they can triple date. While the other friend seems okay with this plan, Eren isn't sure she wants to date anyone. She picks a boy she finds interesting, but isn't attracted to, and he agrees to go to the dance. He and she also become friends and co-champions to fight the Frostfangs.

Finally, on the homefront, Eren's mother has started dating a man who would never meet her exacting standards under normal circumstances. On the fantasy front, the mother's change in personality is clearly the effect of the Frostfangs. It's also a metaphoric look at how domestic abuse can affect a person, even one who had seemed headstrong and on top of things.

The novel also happens to sit on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Eren going against the Frostfangs is a protector, or scarecrow traveler (99). Her route is utopia, the Resplendent Nest which is the principality of the birds (FF). Her route there is an offroad one via the forest trails she rides on her bike (66).

Five stars

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Wedding Day Murder: 01/05/23

Wedding Day Murder

Wedding Day Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) (2001) is the eighth Lucy Stone mystery. Sue Finch's daughter, Sidra, is engaged to an up and coming internet mogul. Sue wants to host the wedding in the Stones' new gazebo but the fiancé's mother has other, more grandiose plans. All that, though, ends up moot when the groom dies during the wedding shower.

The good of this series is how it continues to move along in real time. The time that passes between publication dates is reflected fairly closely in how time passes for Tinker's Cove. This makes the sudden rise of the internet start up and their fleeting wealth all the more real and raw. Reading this mystery with a twenty-one year case of hindsight, it's clear from the get go that this start up isn't what the groom claims it is.

The fair to middling is the mystery itself. This volume suffers from the same pitfalls of some of Kate Carlisle's mysteries — the almost comically bad villain or foil. Despite all the red herrings politely trying to steer Lucy and the reader to different conclusions, there's only one person who is bombastic and volatile enough and in the right place to actually have done the murder. But given how clueless Lucy remains to this fact, the murderer could have kept quiet and gotten away with the crime. There was no need (beyond having a dramatic climax) for them to confront Lucy.

The bad: the wedding. There's something about weddings in books that makes some authors go stupid and get distracted from the majority of their plot. The first fifty-one percent of this novel is nothing but wedding planning. The groom's murder doesn't happen until just past the half way point. The mystery solving takes the next forty-five percent (if I'm generous) of the novel. The remaining time at the end is for more wedding stuff as a completely unnecessary coda.

The seventh book is Birthday Party Murder (2002).

Three stars

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Reserved for Murder: 01/04/23

Reserved for Murder

Reserved for Murder by Victoria Gilbert (2021) is the second book in the Booklover's B&B mystery series. While I prefer to post reviews in order, sometimes I goof, especially if I have different volumes in different media. That's what happened with this series as I had the third book as an audio but hadn't yet read the print volume that comes before it.

The president of a reclusive author's fan club is murdered after an event at Chapters. Charlotte takes that as a call to solve another mystery. Meanwhile her neighbor, a former handler, has a suspicious man staying with her. Is he involved in the murder or something else but equally sinister?

I have to admit that the whole great aunt as spy shtick in this series isn't keeping me interested. She's dead. Her career is over. If the author is more interested in said aunt, she should just start a series of historical mysteries.

The modern day mystery involves the weird and sometimes creepy overlap between authors, readers, fans and trolls. A big part of the controversy stems from fan fiction and accusations of plagiarism. Infamous (in some circles) book review site (and Amazon shill), GoodReads is invoked in the midst of the mudslinging. That detail earned a genuine chuckle.

Mostly though volume two is rather pedestrian. There's nothing here to set it apart from the half dozen or so other cozies I've read with similar plots. The shenanigans with the next door neighbor spy guy were distracting filler and slowed down the actual mystery.

The third book is A Fatal Booking (2022).

Three stars

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The Vanderbeekers Make A Wish: 01/03/23

The Vanderbeekers Make A Wish

The Vanderbeekers Make A Wish by Karina Yan Glaser (2021) is the fifth book in the Vanderbeekers series. Papa is turning forty this year but he's called out of state on an emergency. The kids decide to plan his surprise party in his absence.

But that's just the first thing they have to contend with. Mama's parents and sister show up uninvited. Grandma is stern, opinionated and hard to please. Grandpa has very little to say and would probably prefer to spend his time doing tai-chi in the back garden.

Finally, there is a family mystery in the form of a letter found in an old coat. It's from Pop-Pop who died just before Papa graduated from college. His letter leads the children on a quest to learn everything they can about a road trip he had been planning with Papa.

The novel ebbs and flows between these three plot threads. Although Mama's parents, her mother especially, act as foils for the children and their plans, they provide a long overdue insight into the family as a whole. Mama's intense mother grew that way for the same reason that Jason's father did in Kelly Yang's Front Desk series.

The sixth book, The Vanderbeekers on the Road (2022) follows right on the heels of this book's conclusion.

Five stars

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The Stolen Show: 01/02/23

The Stolen Show

The Stolen Show by Carolyn Keene (2019) is the nineteenth book in the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy, Bess, and George are off to Quebec City to help a friend at a dog show. When they get there, they're in the middle of a sabotage plot and a possible jewel smuggling ring.

This mystery, more than many in this series has a very strong sense of place. It's set in actual buildings and locations that can be looked up. It's also set during a blizzard, adding an extra level of drama to the mystery.

This particular volume happens to correspond with the first season of the CW's Nancy Drew series. The interactions between Nancy and her friends reminds me quite a bit of how they are portrayed in the show. Here, though, they are still younger and there are no supernatural threats here.

The twentieth book is Hidden Pictures (2020).

Five stars

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December 2022 Sources: 01/02/23

Previous month's book sources

The kitchen construction, my volunteer work for the Sun Gallery, and the holidays meant I didn't have as much time to read. I was also spending more of my free time creating art.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In December I read 11 TBR books, down from November's 18 TBR. No books were published in December. Nine books were for research. None were from the library. My ROOB score for December was the same as November, -4.1. It was my second best December.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I predicted a -4.5 for December and didn't hit it. For January, I'm predicting a higher (worse) number, -2.3.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for November improved from -2.88 to -2.97.

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Lead-Pipe Cinch: 01/01/23

Lead-Pipe Cinch

Lead-Pipe Cinch by Christy Evans (2010) is the second book in the Georgiana Neverall mystery series. Georgiana as the apprentice has the worst parts of the plumbing jobs, including digging out the trenches to lay wiring and water under a moat being built at a mega mansion site. She then finds herself accused of murder when her ex-lover and business partner ends up dead in that very trench.

It's fairly typical of a mystery — especially a cozy mystery — to set the scene in an obvious enough way to know who is going to be murdered. Some even go far enough to broadcast who the prime suspect will be. Even others, like Columbo will show you the murder and let you enjoy watching the lieutenant play with his quarry.

But there are ways to do it. There's a certain finesse required. Just like romances have conventions, so do mysteries. Lead-Pipe Cinch tries to set up the murder of the ex-boyfriend but it's done in such a clunky way that it comes off more like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Meaning, that by the time he was dead in the expected spot, I was actually surprised when the author didn't pull another "just kidding."

There isn't much to the meat and bones of this mystery. It's short by more recent standards (by about fifty to seventy pages). And much of what's left is actually padding in the form of the main character feeling embarrassed by losing her company after going public.

The fact that the company is still around and still apparently healthy should be something to be proud of. It calls into question her reason for going home to become a plumber. This could have been about her coming home to parlay her success to start a small tech boom in her small town.

The third and final volume is Drip Dead

Two stars

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December 2022 Summary: 01/01/23

Reading report

December meant winter vacation, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Eve, which meant a trip down to Los Angeles to pick up our oldest. It also meant three weeks of construction in our kitchen but the project was finished nine days early! We're still, though, moving back into the new kitchen. So I'm still parking on the street.

I read the fewer books in December, 20, down from 30 in the previous month. Of my read books, 13 were diverse and two were queer. I reviewed 28 books, down one from the previous month. On the reviews front, 15 were diverse qualified and five were queer.

I have 39 books left to review of the 320 books I read in 2022.

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Beat the Backlist 2023: 01/01/22

Beat the Backlist
Hosted by Austine of Novel Knight.

Although I did surpass my usual goal of 300, I am going to do another year of a smaller goal, 200. As with previous years, my goal for this challenge is to have half my reading be from backlist books. Ideally, I'd like to complete my 2021 books and make a serious dent in my 2022 purchases.

Below is my list of unread books from 2021, 2020 and 2019. I will cross them out as I read them. I will also add other books to the list as I read them, and will bold them.

TBR from 2022

  1. Frozen Detective by Amanda Flower and Laura Faye Smith (Narrator)
  2. Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca
  3. A Streetcar Named Murder by T.G. Herren
  4. Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking by Raquel V. Reyes and Frankie Corzo (Narrator)
  5. Diana and Nubia: Princesses of the Amazons by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Victoria Ying (Illustrator)
  6. High Spirits by Carol J. Perry
  7. Lore Olympus: Volume Three by Rachel Smythe
  8. Blackmail and Bibingka by Mia P. Manansala and Danice Cabanela (Narrator)
  9. The Ghost and the Stolen Tears by Cleo Coyle
  10. Sisterhood of Sleuths by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  11. Soul of a Killer by Abby Collette and L. Malaika Cooper (Narrator)
  12. Best Wishes by Sarah Mlynowski
  13. Vampiric Vacation by Kiersten White
  14. Gone for Gouda by Korina Moss and Erin Moon (Narrator)
  15. Dewey Decimated by Allison Brook and Marilyn Levinson (Narrator)
  16. Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder by Valerie Burns and Jasmin Walker (Narrator)
  17. August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White
  18. Crunch by Kayla Miller
  19. The Neapolitan Sisters by Margo Candela
  20. Two Dogs by Ian Falconer
  21. Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman and Emily Rankin (Narrator)
  22. Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett
  23. Pink, Blue, and You! by Elise Gravel with Mykaell Blais (Contributor)
  24. Frank and Bert by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

    TBR from 2021

  25. East Bay Artists 2021 by Jessica Warren (2021)
  26. Spy x Family, Volume 8 by Tatsuya Endo
  27. Well Matched by Jen DeLuca
  28. Dinosaur Sanctuary, Volume 1 by Itaru Kinoshita
  29. A Fatal Feast by Kathleen Bridge and Vanessa Daniels (Narrator)
  30. Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer
  31. Seven-Year Witch by Angela M. Sanders
  32. No Grater Crime by Maddie Day and Laural Merlington (Narrator)
  33. She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, Volume 1 by Sakaomi Yuzaki and Caleb David Cook (Translator)
  34. Yes & No by Elisha Cooper (2021)
  35. Danger at the Iron Dragon by Carolyn Keene (2021)
  36. Lost Lad London, Volume 2 by Shima Shinya (2021)

    Older books

  37. A Cop and a Coop by Hillary Avis and Kitty Hendrix (Narrator) (2020)
  38. Dead-End Detective by Amanda Flower and Laura Faye Smith (Narrator) (2020)
  39. A Design to Die For by Kathleen Bridge and Vanessa Daniels (Narrator) (2020)
  40. Grounds for Murder by Tara Lush and Kae Marie Denino (Narrator) (2020)
  41. Hidden Pictures by Carolyn Keene (2020)
  42. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (2020)
  43. House of El: Book One: The Shadow Threat by Claudia Gray and Eric Zawadzki (Illustrator) (2020)
  44. I Am a Cat Barista, Volume 2 by Hiro Maijima (2020)
  45. Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 2 by Jun Mayuzuki and Amanda Haley (Translation) (2020)
  46. Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 3 by Jun Mayuzuki and Amanda Haley (Translator) (2020)
  47. Murder at the Taffy Shop by Maddie Day and Rachel Dulude (Narrator) 2020
  48. My Dress-Up Darling, Volume 5 by Shinichi Fukuda and Taylor Engel (Translator) (2020)
  49. The Other World's Books Depend on the Bean Counter, Volume 1 by Kazuki Irodori (2020)
  50. The Vanishing Statue by Carolyn Keene (2020)
  51. Ya Boy Kongming!, Volume 1 by Yuto Yotsuba and Ryō Ogawa (illustrator) (2020)
  52. Call of the Night, Volume 1 by Kotoyama (2019)
  53. Karl the Fog: San Francisco's Most Mysterious Resident by Karl the Fog (2019)
  54. Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie Day and Rachel Dulude (Narrator) (2019)
  55. No Good Tea Goes Unpunished by by Bree Baker and Thérèse Plummer (Narrator) (2019)
  56. Dying for Devil's Food by Jenn McKinlay and Susan Boyce (narrator) (2019)
  57. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (2019)
  58. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Volume 4 by Sumito Oowara and Kumar Sivasubramanian (Translator) (2019)
  59. Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire (2019)
  60. A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh (2019) -->
  61. The Masterful Cat Is Depressed Again, Today by Hitsuji Yamada (2019)
  62. The Masterful Cat Is Depressed Again, Today, Volume 2 by Hitsuji Yamada (2019)
  63. Shadows House, Volume 1 by Somato (2019)
  64. Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 3 by Keigo Maki (2019)
  65. Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 2 by Keigo Maki (2019)
  66. A Storm of Wishes by Jacqueline West (2019)
  67. Superwomen in Love!, Volume 1 by sometime (2019)
  68. Fly Me to the Moon, Volume 3 by Kenjirō Hata (2018)
  69. The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas and Kate Reading (Narrator) (2018)
  70. Live and Let Chai by Bree Baker and Thérèse Plummer(2018)
  71. A Wrench in the Works by Kate Carlisle and Eileen Stevens (Narrator) (2018)
  72. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (2017)
  73. Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper (2017)
  74. Eaves of Destruction by Kate Carlisle and Angela Starling (Narrator) (2017)
  75. Komi Can't Communicate, Volume 4 by Tomohito Oda (2017)
  76. Komi Can’t Communicate, Volume 5 Tomohito Oda (2017)
  77. Olivia the Spy by Ian Falconer (2017)
  78. The Promised Neverland 2 by Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu (Illustrator), and Luise Steggewentz (Translator) (2017)
  79. A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly and Cassandra Campbell (Narrator) (2017)
  80. Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, Volume 1 by Ren Eguchi and Kevin Chen (Translator) (2016)
  81. The Gathering by Dan Poblocki (2016)
  82. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Volume 1 by Kagiji Kumanomata (2016)
  83. You Can't Hide by Dan Poblocki (2016)
  84. Dressed to Kill by Lynn Cahoon and Susan Boyce (Narrator) (2015)
  85. A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) (2015)
  86. Oh Say Can You Fudge by Nancy CoCo and Vanessa Johansson (2015)
  87. Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen by Chris Riddell (2015)
  88. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz (2015)
  89. Musseled Out by Barbara Ross and Dara Rosenberg (Narrator) (2015)
  90. Perfect World, Volume 1 by Rie Aruga (2015)
  91. Boiled Over by Barbara Ross and Dara Rosenberg (Narrator) (2014)
  92. To Fudge or Not to Fudge by Nancy CoCo and Vanessa Johansson (Narrator) (2014)
  93. Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death by Chris Riddell (2014)
  94. If the Shoe Kills by Lynn Cahoon and Susan Boyce (Narrator) (2014)
  95. Mission to Murder by Lynn Cahoon and Susan Boyce (Narrator) (2014)
  96. On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) (2014)
  97. Sweetness and Lightning, Volume 2 by Gido Amagakure and Adam Lensenmayer (Translator) (2014)
  98. Sweetness and Lightning, Volume 3 by Gido Amagakure and Adam Lensenmayer (Translator) (2014)
  99. xxxHOLiC Rei, Volume 1 by CLAMP (2014)
  100. The Case of the Toxic Mutants by Ursula Vernon (2013)
  101. Dyeing Wishes by Molly MacRae and and Emily Durante (Narrator) (2013)
  102. Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) (2013)
  103. Topped Chef by Lucy Burdette (2013)
  104. Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae (2012)
  105. The Lonely Phone Booth by Peter Ackerman and Max Dalton (Illustrator) (2010)
  106. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (2009)
  107. Obsession, Deceit, and Really Dark Chocolate by Kyra Davis and Gabra Zackman (Narrator) (2007)
  108. Saturn Apartments, Volume 2 by Hisae Iwaoka and Rachel Balzora Thorn (Translator) (2007)
  109. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi and Emily Balistrieri (Translator) (2006)
  110. Star Spangled Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) (2005)
  111. The Tatami Galaxy by Tomihiko Morimi and Emily Balistrieri (Translation) (2004)
  112. Father's Day Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) (2003)
  113. Hope Springs by Lynne Hinton (2003)
  114. This Pen for Hire by Laura Levine and Brittany Pressley (Narrator) (2002)
  115. Deep South by Nevada Barr (2000)
  116. Birthday Party Murder by Leslie Meier and Karen White (Narrator) (2002)
  117. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (2000)
  118. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (1998)
  119. The Starlite Drive-In by Marjorie Reynolds (1997)
  120. Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely (1994)
  121. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle (1971)
  122. Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton (1960)
  123. The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton (1960)
  124. Tootle by Gertrude Crampton and Tibor Gergely (Illustrator) (1945)
  125. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift and Lynd Ward (1942)
  126. Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky (1939)
  127. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie and David Suchet (Narrator) (1924)
  128. Windy McPherson's Son by Sherwood Anderson (1916)
  129. The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881)

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