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February 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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Ozathon: 12/2023-01/2025

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

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Komi Can't Communicate, Volume 3: 02/28/23

Komi Can't Communicate, Volume 2

Komi Can't Communicate, Volume 3 by Tomohito Oda (2017) returns to the quiet charm of the first volume. It's summer vacation. Komi's done her homework and misses her friends but is to shy to reach out to them. Thankfully Tadano understands and manages to get the gang together.

For now there aren't plots involving the stalker's obsession with Komi. She seems to have been assimilated into the friend group. Instead we have a trip to a waterpark.

Although Komi injures herself midway through the day, she still manages to have fun. Her friends include her on her terms and everyone manages to have fun.

Also, for essentially a "bathing suit" issue, it doesn't go for the usual gags. There's no boob talk. There's no boy trying to see things he shouldn't. It's just high school friends having fun over the summer.

Five stars

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Bayou Book Thief: 02/27/23

Bayou Book Thief

Wined and Died in New Orleans by Ellen Byron and Amy Melissa Bentley (Narrator) (2023) is the second book in the Vintage Cookbook mystery series. It's hurricane season and during repairs on the Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, crates of well preserved, expensive wine bottles are unearthed. This treasure trove brings out extended family, all wanting in on the haul. But then, one of them ends up murdered and evidence points to Ricki's boss.

I like how Ellen Byron ties the weather to the mystery. The hurricane alerts and ultimately the hurricane that does hit New Orleans, brings a similar tone to Mardi Gras Murder (2018). The weather provides a backdrop and a sense of urgency to the events.

An interesting side plot, one that's continued from Bayou Book Thief (2022), is Ricki's background. She's originally from New Orleans, a baby abandoned by her birth mother. It was implied in the first book that she is related to the family that owns and runs Bon Vee. This book confirms her ties to the family but doesn't answer the question of who her birth parents were.

As of writing this review, there's not a third volume announced. I'm hoping there is one planned. I will certainly continue with this series.

Five stars

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Soul of a Killer: 02/26/23

Soul of a Killer

Soul of a Killer by Abby Collette and L. Malaika Cooper (Narrator) (2022) is the second Books & Biscuits mystery. A man is electrocuted during a church potluck. Mama Zola and the twins know the accused man couldn't have done it and set out to prove so.

This mystery is built around church politics and the rivalries that can spring up among similar congregations. Add in financial shenanigans and there's sure to be enough hurt feelings that someone might be driven to murder.

Keaton sets herself apart from most cozy sleuths in that she will readily admit when she doesn't know something. She does this to the people around her and to the reader. She's also more than willing to ask for help. That said, she's still hindered by preconceptions that sometimes get her into danger.

I did manage to figure out who had committed the murder before Keaton, Koby or Mama Zola. The process involved first, an understanding of the "family" dynamic of the church and later in recognizing who besides the obvious characters had the same skillset.

Five stars

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High Spirits: 02/25/23

High Spirits

High Spirits by Carol J. Perry and C.S.E. Cooney (Narrator) is the second book in the Haunted Haven mystery series. Maureen is running a dinner and a movie promotion at her hotel in conjunction with the historic Paramount movie theater. Unfortunately on the first movie night, the projectionist is murdered.

Maureen is faced with three mysteries. First, there's who killed the projectionist? The second is who killed the man who is now haunting seat one of row four of the movie theater? Finally, who is behind the funding of her hotel? Finally, are all of these mysteries related?

I enjoyed the discussions on the different Christmas themed movies being shown at the theater. They added just enough padding to an otherwise basic (but satisfying) mystery. There's a good mix of classics and more recent ones.

Overall the mystery reminded me of a Columbo especially how Maureen and the Sheriff had to work together to understand deviations in some basic human behavior. Specifically, I was reminded of "Make Me a Perfect Murder" (February 25, 1978). Because I was already in that mind set, I wasn't surprised by the big reveal of the murderer's identity.

Five stars

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Nightmare of the Iguana: 02/24/23

Nightmare of the Iguana

Nightmare of the Iguana by Ursula Vernon (2013) is the eighth book in the Dragonbreath series. Danny's quest takes him someplace he's never been, inside Wendell's brain.

As it happened, I read this novel on the heels of finishing What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher (Vernon's alter-ego). Although this series was written for children, there are elements as horrific as in her newer, adult horror novels.

Wendell is having trouble sleeping. He's plagued with nightmares. Its not that they're keeping him up. He sleeps through them. But his dream self is constantly tortured.

The solution to the problem involves a walk through his mind as he's dreaming. It's the only way to see who is plaguing him. The two to save him are his best friend, Danny, and his long distance girl friend, Suki.

Chart showing the progression of the eight books on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Like the previous seven books, this one sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. With a journey that involves a fight between those who wish to protect, the travelers are in a scarecrow / minotaur dichotomy, with Danny and Suki being the scarecrows and the nightmare monsters being the minotaurs (99). Their destination is utopia (FF), in that it's the made up world of Wendell's mind. The route there is the maze (CC) in that it's dangerous; if Danny and Suki fail, Wendell will die.

The ninth book is The Case of the Toxic Mutants (2013).

Five stars

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Lost Places: 02/23/23

Lost Places

Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker (2023) is a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that take ordinary seeming situations and inject one wrong thing into them to explore various aspects of the human condition.

    The stories are:
  • Two Truths and a Lie
  • And the Flag Was Still There
  • I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise
  • Everything is Closed Today
  • Left the Century to Sit Unmoved
  • Escape from Caring Seasons
  • A Better Way of Saying
  • Remember This For Me
  • The Mountains His Crown
  • Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather
  • Science Facts! 

These stories have a similar tone to T. Kingfisher's novels. The characters and situations are for the most part ordinary and relatable. But then as the stories progress details are revealed to turn the recognizable into the uncanny.

Normally in these reviews I would talk about my favorite stories. Here, though, I honestly can't pick. They all kept me turning pages. I think this is the first book of short stories that gave me a book hangover when I finished the last page.

Five stars

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Blackmail and Bibingka: 02/22/23

Blackmail and Bibingka

Blackmail and Bibingka by Mia P. Manansala and Danice Cabanela (Narrator) (2022) is the third book in the Tita Rosie's Kitchen mystery series. Lila Macapagal is in full Christmas mode until her cousin Ronnie makes an appearance after fifteen years. He has come with news of opening a new winery, featuring coconut wine. Unfortunately one of his partners dies of poisoning and it looks like Ronnie did it, either deliberately or through negligence.

The dynamics between Ronnie and his partners reminds me of the family tension in Death by Espresso by Alex Erickson (2018). It's really like watching a shell game but with people, or in this case, fictional characters.

While not usually a fan of holiday themed books, the focus on Filipino traditions and recipes saved the mystery from falling into the usual Christmas sentimentality. I especially like how Lila works through updating recipes to work in her coffee shop to be both traditional tasting but also cross-culturally inviting.

The fourth book is Murder and Mamon. It releases on October 17, 2023.

Five stars

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Dewey Decimated: 02/21/23

Dewey Decimated

Dewey Decimated by Allison Brook and Marilyn Levinson (Narrator) is the sixth book in the Haunted Library mystery series. The library expansion is going forward by linking it to an abandoned warehouse next door. Unfortunately in the final inspection, a mummified body is found. To make matters worse, the ghost of the murdered man is now haunting the library!

This is the first new ghost for Carrie Singleton. It's also the first time someone outside her immediate family can see a ghost. In this case, it's her fiancé who can see him. The inclusion of a new ghost, or maybe a ghost of the week, implies a change of premise for this series. I'm curious to see if Allison Brook will have other ghostly characters in future mysteries.

The novel ends up having two mysteries: the cold case in the construction site, and later the murder of the owner of the company doing the expansion. The two are clearly tied together and to two projects: the library and the fate of a nature sanctuary that is up for potential development.

Although the who done it bit of the mystery was pretty easy for me to solve, I kept reading for other emotional investments. I wanted to know what would happen to the land. I was curious to see what would become of the second ghost in the library and why the usual library ghost seemed to know so much more than she was letting on.

Four stars

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Lore Olympus, Volume Two: 02/20/23

Lore Olympus, Volume Two

Lore Olympus, Volume Two by Rachel Smythe (2022) was my last read for 2022. In this volume, Hera interferes in Persephone and Hades's lives by sending Persephone to the underworld in an internship.

The book is mostly either phone conversations between Hades and Persephone or Hera scheming. There are some cute scenes of Persephone with Hades's various hellhounds. She's very good with dogs.

As with many second books in a series, there's not a lot of action. It's mostly slow burn character building. It's setting things up for the next big event or confrontation.

The visuals remain amazing. I love the use of saturated colors and the ways color is used to build character and unite related characters.

Volume three was released on October 11, 2022.

Five stars

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Fly Me to the Moon, Volume 2: 02/19/23

Fly Me to the Moon, Volume 2

Fly Me to the Moon, Volume 2 by Kenjiro Hata covers the morning of the young couple's first full day of marriage. It primarily involves a trip to the local public bath because Nasa's apartment is too small for a bath or shower.

Much of this volume is played for comedy — for expectations of what normally comes during a bath scene. The author is clearly aware of the tropes and delights in subverting them. Sometimes he goes further by adding authorial asides.

I would also suggest that the author's a fan of Rumiko Takahashi's comedic manga. There are scenes where he specifically references characters of Takahashi.

Five stars

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6 Times We Almost Kissed: 02/18/23

6 Times We Almost Kissed

6 Times We Almost Kissed by Tess Sharpe is an enemies to lovers tale. Penny and Tate aren't exactly friends but their mothers are best friends. When Penny's mother offers to donate part of her liver to Tate's mother and the two families end up living together for the duration, the girls vow to play nice for their mothers' sake. What they don't expect is to fall in love even if everyone else sees the romantic tension between the two.

This YA romance comes close to the "not related by blood" incest trope that shows up in a number of anime series. Despite the blurb, I wasn't expecting it here. For the most part it's not, as there's very little in the way of romance or even friendship.

Instead the novel is mostly melodrama. There's Penny's grief over her father's death. There are lengthy flashbacks over how he died and how Penny couldn't save him. There's Tate having to sell her truck and take over the household finances because of her mother's illness. Then of course, there's the operation and all those logistics.

Beyond the unending trauma porn, there's the lack of unique voice for each of the characters. Honestly most of the time I couldn't tell the girls apart or remember which girl went with which mother. There's so much dialog with little in the way of characterization that I didn't have anything to hold on to.

Two stars

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The Neapolitan Sisters: 02/17/23

The Neapolitan Sisters

The Neapolitan Sisters by Margo Candela is a novel of three sisters coming together for the youngest sister's second wedding. Maritza wants the perfect wedding and refuses to settle. Claudia, Harvard educated is now a film producer. Dulcina "Dooley" works as a bartender in San Francisco and is a recovering addict.

The chapters alternate points of view among the sisters, starting with Maritza. If you listen to the audiobook, each sister will have her own narrator in her point of view chapter.

I chose to listen to the audiobook version because I normally am better about not skimming or skipping when listening. After about two hours of this nearly ten hour book, I was bored to distraction.

The chapter that did me in and made me decide to skip to the last half hour of the book was the one in which Dooley describes a night of sex with someone. Sex here. Sex there. Sex everywhere. She and her partner must be Olympic athletes to have so much in such a short amount of time. It was both ridiculous and incredibly dull to listen to.

Two stars

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Into the Windwracked Wilds: 02/16/23

Into the Windwracked Wilds

Into the Windwracked Wilds by A. Deborah Baker (2022) is the third of the Up and Under books in which Zib and Avery do nothing and the adults around them info-dump. Somehow after falling off the Impossible Road again and sinking into the water to the point of nearly drowning, they end up in Land of Air, the domain of the Queen of Swords.

In struggling to slog my way through this book (213 of the most boring pages ever) I began to read reviews. Apparently Sean McGuire's chosen nom de plume as well as this series is a convoluted tie in to the Alchemical Journeys series. I've only read Middlegame (2019), but do have Seasonal Fears on hand. Now seeing that the Up and Under is essentially an advertisement (and not a very good one) for the adult series, I'm reluctant to continue with either series!

Anyway, book the third has endless pages of semantics, equally endless pages on how the Up and Under political system works (or doesn't), it ultimately comes to be the story of how the Crow Girl became the Crow Girl and the recovery of her memories. Put another way, it's a rehash of the Pirate's plot in Along the Saltwise Sea (2021) but in the element of air instead of water.

Chart showing progression of the books on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Despite never seeming to get any closer to home or managing to stay on the Impossible Road, Into the Windwracked Wilds sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Like the second book, the traveler isn't either of the main characters. Instead it's the Queen of Swords and her sibling (CC). Their destination is uhoria, in the recovery for of recovered memories (CC). Their route there is the Interstate because it doesn't seem to matter what Zib and Avery do, they end up railroaded through the story to where they need to be for a few key scenes.

The fourth book is Under the Smokestrewn Sky with a release date of October 17, 2023.

Two stars

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No Judgments: 02/15/23

No Judgments

No Judgments by Meg Cabot (2019) is the start of the Little Bridge Island series of romances. A massive hurricane is headed towards Florida and Sabrina "Bree" Beckham has ways off, including an air rescue by an ex-boyfriend but she choses to stay.

In the time leading up to the storm and its aftermath when the island is without power and cut off from the mainland because the bridge is washed out, Bree and her boss's nephew, Drew Hartwell grow close. Is there actual chemistry there?

I have to admit that up to the time that the hurricane hit, I borderline hated Bree as a main character. She struck me as willfully ignorant. She had the means to evacuate and chose not to for "reasons." As the novel progresses, her reasons are explained and I had to re-contextualize my initial reaction to her.

What kept me reading in the interim, was Cabot's description of Little Bridge Island and how the hurricane would affect it. The island is also populated with interesting people with enough other survival stories to keep things compelling.

Finally, even before Bree's reasons are spelled out, she redeems herself by caring for the pets who were left behind. It starts initially with her landlord's son's guinea pigs and moves on from there. Again, the stories of why animals were left behind, both good and bad, were believable.

I found the climax, though, disappointing and out of character for Bree. She ends up firing a gun at a person after a lengthy refusal to carry the gun. To have her suddenly decide to fire it and to have her rationalize it as a necessary and satisfying thing to do doesn't match up with how she behaves up to that point. It also feeds into the mistaken notion that bullied people become bullies.

This first book also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Bree, as it turns out, is an extremely privileged person (00). Her life on the island meant a journey to a rural place (33). Her route there was via a Blue Highway (33), if one assumes this island is part of the Keys.

The second book is No Offense (2020).

Four stars

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Monkey Prince: 02/14/23

Monkey Prince

Monkey Prince by Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang (Illustrator) (2023) collects issues one through six of the Monkey Prince. Marcus Sun and his parents move around a lot. He thinks they're ordinary, boring scientists. Actually, though, they're henchmen scientists for hire.

Marcus is used to having no friends. He's never anywhere long enough to make friends anyway. This time the bullying takes him by surprise. During one such hazing, he transforms into the Monkey Prince!

This comic draws inspiration from Journey to the West. The book includes footnotes for some key points just as it does for previous DC comics. The tie-in here is that Marcus is a descendent or maybe even son of The Monkey King.

As the Monkey King is a bit of a trickster, this story sets up the Monkey Prince is an anti-hero. His mentor wants him to act as a superhero but both the superheroes (Batman, Robin, and Aquaman) and the villains see the Monkey Prince as an adversary.

The series is currently up to issue 9, so hopefully that means a second omnibus.

Four stars

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A Design to Die For: 02/13/23

A Design to Die For

A Design to Die For by Kathleen Bridge and Vanessa Daniels (Narrator) (2020) is the fifth book in the Hamptons Home & Garden mystery series. Meg Barrett is one of a small group of designers brought on board to decorate rooms and spaces in the first annual Designer Showhouse. Things go awry when one of the home's owners is found dead at the bottom of a cliff near the home.

Meg happens to be the person who finds the murdered man and she recognizes her fairy lights as the murder weapon. These two things push her towards investigating another death.

From the moment of discovery I had a fairly good idea who had committed the murder. I had the solution down to two potential suspects. When one of the two ends up dead later in the book, it was then obvious who the murderer had to be.

I don't mind obvious solutions or even being told the solution ahead of time. I love Columbo for that very reason. What kept me reading was everything else going on in Meg's life. Kathleen Bridge is good at finding the right balance between moving the mystery along and giving her characters enough other stuff to do to make things both interesting and believable.

The sixth book is A Fatal Feast (2021).

Five stars

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Available Dark: 02/12/23

Available Dark

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand (2011) is the second book in the Cass Neary series. I read the original book, Generation Loss in 2011 when I was looking to expand my reading of Hand's works from beyond her short stories. How I missed that there was second book out the year I read the first is beyond me, but here we are.

So now, twelve years later, many more books under my belt, I am drawing connections that I certainly wouldn't have made had I read Available Dark in 2011 or 2012. Take this review too with the knowledge that I read the book in the run up to the winter solstice and Christmas.

Cass Neary, still raddled and in hiding after the events in Maine, is recruited to Helsinki to authenticate a collection of gruesome photographs. Death follows her and soon the photographer and his assistant are dead and she's once again on the run.

Her flight takes to her to Reykjavík, Iceland and to the wilderness beyond the coastal city. The farther she goes, the more embroiled in the imagery of the Great Hunt she becomes. This novel being a mystery with horror undertones, Casey's observations on the similarity of her situation to the Hunt draws her to thoughts of both Odin and Krampus.

There is no denying the links that the Hunt shares with modern day Christmas. The dangerous landscape and the fear of being followed, that propagates through this novel had me thinking of the second half of The Hogfather (1996) and especially the 2006 two part miniseries. But the talk of Odin and the fact that Christmas was around the corner, had me thinking of The Librarians episode, "And Santa's Midnight Run" (Season 1, Episode 4).

I wanted to enjoy this novel as much as I had the first but I didn't. I found Casey's reliance on drugs tiresome. I found her incredible luck oddly convenient. The way death kept following her was also difficult to swallow at times.

Chart showing the progression between books on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Like Generation Loss, Available Dark sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Casey, as someone on the outs and on the run, remains a marginalized traveler (66). Her destination this time is utopia (FF) — represented by the impossible places she keeps finding as she flees in terror. Her route there is the Maze (CC) as her route is full of traps, blind alleys, and danger.

The third book is Hard Light (2016).

Three stars

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Dance Hall of the Dead: 02/11/23

Dance Hall of the Dead

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman and George Guidall (1973) is the second of the Navajo Mysteries. Three years have passed between the first and second in publication dates, though the mystery itself doesn't make a point of establishing how much time has elapsed.

It opens with a Diné boy who is interested in joining the Zuñi as an initiate because his best friend is Zuñi. He sees what he believes is a bird spirit and then he vanishes. As he's Diné, Leaphorn is sent to find him.

In the mix of all of this is an archeological dig site with some sketchy business. The argument that the same people who were fastidious in their arrowhead making would evolve to make the more common, quickly rendered ones as their environment changed sounds like a good one. But it's the site's paranoia about contamination and the researcher's overall secrecy that suggests something else is afoot.

The big question then is how do the missing boys, as well as some other bodies Leaphorn discovers during his investigation tie back to the dig? In the early mysteries from this series, the answer is usually a white person of means. So then it's a matter of figuring out which one.

This mystery overall seems less grounded in the time period it was written. The situations described are more generic, being driven by human frailties than specific events. There are a few details that set it apart from later books: Leaphorn's wife is still alive, Leaphorn is youngish, there's no Chee, there's certainly no Manuelita, nor are there any modern communication devices, meaning Leaphorn is often cut off from the rest of the world when he's in some very remote areas.

The third book is Listening Woman (1978). The audiobook is currently unavailable, although I probably have a copy backed up. I just need to find it and decide if it's worth the effort.

Four stars

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The Game is a Footnote: 02/10/23

The Game is a Footnote

The Game is a Footnote by Vicki Delany (2023) is the eighth book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. Someone is haunting the Scarlet House and after Gemma is reluctantly brought on board to investigate, the historical society's vet dies under suspicious circumstances.

Scarlet House's main problem isn't a supernatural one. It's a financial one. The historical society which owns and runs the house has suffered an income shortfall during the COVID years. Now there is talk among some of the board members to sell the home to save the society.

I am currently on a board of a similar scale nonprofit — except we don't even own the building we use. COVID has been brutal financially to us as well, so the set up to this book rings true.

It's also clear that the "ghost" is looking for something. What's missing or hidden is a big part of the mystery, and remains unspoken until the back third of the book. Gemma, of course, puts it together and if you're an observant reader, you might too. The MacGuffin for this book makes it thematically similar to another mystery I recently finished, The Ghost and the Stolen Tears by Cleo Coyle (2022).

Five stars

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Blanche Among the Talented Tenth: 02/09/23

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely and Lisa Reneé Pitts (Narrator) (1994) is the second of Blanche White mystery series. Blanche has traveled to Amber Cove, Maine, to watch her children and their friends while the parents of their friends travel. Although she knew this resort town was elitist, she is still shocked at how divided and color struck it is.

Dealing with the many ways the residents divide themselves from everyone else would have been frustrating enough but Blanche finds herself in the middle of not one, but two murders. The first was made to look like an accident and the second made to look like a suicide. But Blanche knows people and she can see that neither scenario adds up. While she would prefer to leave the sleuthing to someone else, no one else seems willing to.

By themselves the two murders are very straightforward. Their posed scenarios read like scenes from a pair of Columbo episodes with Blanche in the place of the lieutenant. What fills out this novel, then, is the lengthy discussions on race, class, white supremacy and how it affects the Black community (beyond the obvious ways), self esteem, and other social issues.

The third book is Blanche Cleans Up (1998)

Five stars

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Seven-Year Witch: 02/08/23

Seven-Year Witch

Seven-Year Witch by Angela M. Sanders (2021) is the second book in the Witch Way Librarian mystery series. Sam has returned to run for sheriff but he's brought along his wife and their infant son. Josie who has feelings for Sam has to keep them to herself while he and his wife finalize their divorce.

The mystery at hand involves a couple murders involved with a curse plot of land at the old mill. Rumor has it, the land is cursed. Josie with her recently reawakened magic uses this time to learn about curses with the help of letters left to her by her grandmother.

I happened to read this mystery during the winter deluge of January 2023. With rain, landslides, levee breaks, and flooding already on my mind, the fictional rainstorm that provides a backdrop to Seven-Year Witch made for an extra dramatic reading. Sanders captures the way a flood can go from a mild annoyance to deadly in a matter of minutes perfectly.

The third book is Witch and Famous (2022).

Five stars

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A Conspiracy in Belgravia: 02/07/23

A Conspiracy in Belgravia

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas and Kate Reading (Narrator) (2017) is the second book in the Lady Sherlock mystery series. The wife of Charlotte's benefactor hires "Sherlock" to find her first love. This case leads into a confusing tangle of mistaken identities, missing persons, and unidentified bodies.

Keeping track of which case Charlotte was working on and the identities of all the people in play was like participating in the shell game. At first it was very confusing and then as Charlotte realizes the truth behind these cases everything snaps into place.

Outside of the initial complexity, the structure of this mystery is very similar to The Mystery of Albert E. Finch by Callie Hutton (2022). The similarities, minus the delayed honeymoon, are distractingly similar.

The third book is The Hollow of Fear (2018).

Four stars

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Any Way the Wind Blows: 02/06/23

Any Way the Wind Blows

Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell is the third Simon Snow novel. This series began as a novel about fanfic inspired by the author's enjoyment of the Harry Potter series and then became its own spin-off series that's also sort of a slash pastiche of Rowlings series.

Given that I don't like the source material and I didn't especially like Fangirl (2013), I have no idea why I have doggedly stuck with the Simon Snow books. I really shouldn't have. They and I aren't a good fit.

In this volume, Simon, Baz, et al, including an American, Shepherd, have returned to England. Simon still has his tail and wings — an idiotic detail from a previous book. Baz has decided to mope in his flat for reasons. Penny, Agatha and Shepherd are there to pad a book that doesn't need padding.

The promised romance of this volume doesn't materialize. There's no romance. There's instead a cringe worthy, toxic relationship similar to Gravitation. The only difference is Simon and Baz are the same age, so there's not that abusive dynamic in play on top of everything else.

The biggest problem is this novel isn't about two former roommates and rivals falling in love and moving on with their relation despite odds. Instead it's a woman exploring her gay sex fetish. There is no characterization, no growth (beyond erections), no time where the two are just a couple together. Instead they either can't stand to be in the room together or they can't take their hands off each other.

Simon and Baz's plot would be maybe 200 pages of quick reading slash fic, were it not for the other three tag alongs providing 300 pages or so of padding.

One star

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A Tale of Two Princes: 02/05/23

A Tale of Two Princes

A Tale of Two Princes by Eric Geron (2023) is a modern take on The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881). But there are a few key changes. First, it's set in a modern day, alternate Earth. It assumes the recent creation / off-shoot of the British monarchy of a Canadian monarchy. Finally the prince and the pauper are twins who are both gay.

The long lost twins: Edward and Billy reunite in New York for reasons. Edward has been exiled to New York to finish his high school education after an incident. Billy is there for his one change to audition for Juilliard. They meet when Billy tries to take a short cut through the building where Edward is staying.

The big twist, beyond, they're both gay, is that the King of Canada decides to hand over the position of Crown Prince to Billy despite not knowing him and having not trained him. He's the oldest child and that's that.

That's not that. But that's the set up for what becomes a very frustrating read. Edward, despite wanting an out to pursue his love of baking, is suddenly jealous. Billy, despite his desire to attend Juilliard and his commitment to saving the family ranch, goes along with his new role.

And then there's the myopic approach to the queer community as a whole. As other reviewers point out there are no queer women. There's also very little in the way of diversity among the gay male characters.

After the first few entertaining chapters, the novel is just boring. Neither Edward nor Billy despite given alternating first person point of view chapters is fleshed out enough to be interesting or relatable.

Finally, the ending frustratingly involves a parade by Stonewall. Given the lack of diversity in this book, Stonewall shouldn't be included. It's frankly an insulting way to end this boring and lackluster novel.

Two stars

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Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 2: 02/04/23

Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 1

Kowloon Generic Romance, Volume 2 by Jun Mayuzuki and Amanda Haley (Translation) (2020) opens with Kudou's introduction. At first glance it appears to be a flashback, except the woman who was mistaken for a ghost is still around and still remembers working with both Kujirai and Kudou.

My first thought is that something is amiss with time. We saw that too with the ending page of Volume One. Kujirai, though, doesn't remember working with the woman. Nor does she remember much of her own life.

My husband's theory is this manga series is a möbius plot, a la Wind and Mr. Ug. I'm working on the theory that Kujirai of this volume is a replicant (or similar).

Even slowly changing Kowloon has altered somewhat. Old short cuts no longer work. Passageways lead to doors that lead to empty space. In this regard I'm reminded of Dark City (1998).

Chart showing the large gap in placement between volumes 1 and 2 on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Volume two continues to series's trend of being on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Whereas Kujirai and Kudou were clearly becoming a couple in the previous book, the odd restart of their work and personal relationships suggests they are something other. While the two love their city and want the best for it, they are now scarecrow (99) travelers. As their city also seems to be more unknowable than first thought, their destination is now utopia (CC). Their route there is the labyrinth, both literal (the changing city) and metaphorical (their understanding of their identities) (99)

Volume three in English translation comes out in May, 2023

Five stars

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Steeped to Death: 02/03/23

Steeped to Death

Steeped to Death by Gretchen Rue and Kristin Price (Narrator) (2022) is the start of the Witches' Brew mystery series. Phoebe Winchester has moved to Raven Creek, inheriting her aunt's mansion and her bookshop/tea shop. Soon, though, she finds a man dead in the alley behind her store and she's on the hunt to figure out who killed him and why everyone is interested in buying her aunt's store and home.

This new series reminds me of two I've read completely. It has a magic system similar to that in the Magical Bakery mystery series by Bailey Cates. But the town set up is most similar to the Book Town mystery series by Lorna Barrett.

Gretchen Rue does a great job at creating a fully realized world. I was so caught up in Phoebe's struggles to run the shop and discover the truth behind her aunt's estate that the conclusion to the mystery took me by surprise. Although the mystery is average length at 300 pages, the book flew by for me.

There's no second title yet as of writing this review but I am definitely on board for Phoebe's further adventures.

Five stars

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Deck the Hallways: 02/02/23

Deck the Hallways

Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisle (2016) is the fourth book in the Fixer-Upper mystery series. Shannon Hammer and her crew are heading the remodel of a local mansion. The goal is to convert it into low rent apartments for Lighthouse Coves's most vulnerable residents.

After run ins with nearly everyone on the remodel project, a corrupt bank president is found murdered, locked in one of the mansion's rooms. Shannon's own father is one of the suspects, so she must be on the case!

Kate Carlisle doesn't do subtlety. I've commented on that before, more than one. This particular mystery suffers from this problem. The opening scenes of a mystery must set up the situation that will lead to the murder and introduce the reader to the murder victim, along with a few reasons why they will probably end up dead. Multiple, shouted fights between the victim and various potential murderers is overkill.

Holiday themed mysteries, like wedding themed ones, often get too focused on the special event to the detriment of the mystery. For this novel, there's also the hard deadline to fix up the mansion in ten days. There's no reason given as to why they are starting this late in the year when Christmas eve is the deadline.

The short number of days really highlights how little mystery or plot there is here. It's really a novella with some padding to get it up to a more standard length for a mystery.

The fifth book is Eves of Destruction (2017).

Three stars

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January 2023 Sources: 02/02/23

Previous month's book sources

Three weeks of nonstop rain kept us inside, making more time to read. I still have the kitchen to put back together after the remodel. That's taking longer that I had hoped. Maybe this month I'll finally be able to park in the garage again.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In January I read 17 TBR books, up from December's 17 TBR. Seven books were published in January. Four books were for research. None were from the library. My ROOB score for January up significantly to -1.96. It was among my worst January's. My worst (highest) January, though, remains 2018's.

You'll also notice I've changed how I'm representing my monthly ROOB scores. The connected lines were obscuring the data. So now I'm focusing on the discrete moments of time, namely the end of each month when I actually calculate the score. The current year's scores will be represented by a triangle.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I predicted a -2.3 for January and did worse. For February, I'm predicting an improved number, -2.75.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for January worsened slightly, going from -2.42 to -2.38.

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Vampiric Vacation: 02/01/23

Vampiric Vacation

Vampiric Vacation by Kiersten White (2022) is the second book in the Sinister Summer middle grade series. Really it should be the Sinister-Winterbottom Summer series given the family's hyphenated name, but that would be a bit long for covers, I suppose.

Without knowing how, exactly, or where exactly, the Sinister-Winterbottom siblings, Wil, and twins, Alexander and Theo, are on a mountain path in the "little Transylvania Mountains" headed towards a health spa where they are to find the next unspoken item on their aunt's list. Wil being sixteen is segregated to the adults while the twins are kept with the children, in the care of a Texan named Quincy.

The new head of the spa is someone known as the Count. The person who should be in charge as her family built it, is Mina. For readers who have read Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) or seen any of the many movies inspired by the novel, will be nodding about now. But Kiersten White isn't as obvious as all that. She is as much a punster and word mistress as Kate Milford, Cathrynne Valente, or Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher.

The world that the Sinister-Winterbottoms travel in is liminal space, straddling the mundane and the magical. In White's many descriptive paragraphs and in her observations on what the children are aware of (primarily Alexander) it's clear that time and space are being manipulated around them. It's not just narrative convention compressing things — it's diagetic and they are at least somewhat aware of it. How though it works or when it works is just out of grasp of their collective kenning.

Chart showing the the next door progression between books one and two

That manipulative of space and time (plus Aunt Saffronia's car) puts this series on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Interestingly, between the first and second books, the placement only changes by one factor: the destination. Both books so far involve sibling travelers and both routes are mazes. The difference between the books one and two, then, is the destination — from uhoria (the mystery of what happened to the waterpark before they got there) to the wildlands (the very remote location of the spa).

The third book is Camp Creepy (2023).

Five stars

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January 2023 Summary: 02/01/23

Reading report

January meant back to school. It was a very wet month — the first three weeks being nonstop rain and snow up in the mountains. Rain brought floods, sink holes, mudslides and power outages. Fortunately our place avoided all of that. The month ended with all of us getting the worst cold we've had in years. And yes, we have tested for COVID, so we know it's not that.

I read more books in January, 28, up from 20 in the previous month. Of my read books, 15 were diverse and five were queer. I reviewed 31 books, up three from the previous month. On the reviews front, 18 were diverse qualified and eight were queer.

I have 22 books left to review of the 320 books I read in 2022 and 19 books of the 28 I've read so far in 2023.

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