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March 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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Beat the Backlist 2024

Ozathon: 12/2023-01/2025

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

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The Starlite Drive-In: 03/31/23

The Starlite Drive-In

The Starlite Drive-In by Marjorie Reynolds (1997) is marketed as a mystery in some editions. Although the initial chapter is set up like a modern day cozy mystery with a cold case aspect, the majority of the book is an extended coming of age flashback.

It's the mid 1950s. Callie Anne Benton is twelve. She lives with her agoraphobic mother and her abusive father. Collectively they run the local drive-in movie theater and live on the property in a small house provided by the theater chain.

On her father's birthday a handyman arrives. He's James Dean handsome. He quickly earns the heart of both mother and daughter. He's also clearly not someone I personally would trust around my teenage daughter. He also clearly going to be the bones found at the start of the novel.

The Starlite Drive-In walks a predictable line between 1950s nostalgia and the grim-dark "realism" of the late 1990s. It's there to show how unhappy everyone was and how every marriage was full of abuse and heartbreak. But it lacks the uncanny valley macro-lens that actual critical deconstructionist art pieces that were produced contemporaneously.

Two stars

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The Enchanted Bridge: 03/30/23

The Witch's Apprentice

The Enchanted Bridge by Zetta Elliott and Cherise Harris (Illustrations) (2023) is the fourth book in the Dragons in a Bag series. Having failed at being a witch's apprentice, Jaxon and his magically altered friends are headed back to Palmara to save all magic creatures.

While Jax and the phoenix go on a quest to save his grandfather from the hidden tower, the others much work out a truce to save Palmara. With the action divided across locations, we're given multiple points of view, including from the dragons, something I don't recall the other books doing.

As this series progresses, Palmara reminds me more and more of Oz. With it's ties to the cities of New York and Chicago, it's more the Oz of The Wiz than the original Baum books, but there's still the other world's appreciation of a child's practicality that rings true to Baum's Oz. Both worlds are blocked by supposedly impassible barriers where the main characters find way after way of crossing. And like in The Emerald City of Oz (1910), the connection between the worlds must be broken to protect the magical world.

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

Like the previous three books, The Enchanted Bridge sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. With the inclusion of the points of view of the magical creatures, the book has a scarecrow / minotaur (99) dual traveler set up. The destination is home (66) both in terms of a safer Palmara and Jax's literal home in New York. The routes there are the interstate/railroad (00), or the basically straight path to the hidden tower in Palmara as well as via the UR once back in the States.

Five stars

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Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 2: 03/29/23

Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 2

Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, Volume 2 by Keigo Maki (2019) expands the world of Shikimori and Izumi. Now included are Izumi's parents, a friend group, and a stray kitten.

The chapters remain fairly episodic and gag centered. Although the main gag is Izumi's curse of clumsiness, bad luck, and injury, there is more focus too on his relationship with Shikimori. While she can and does feel jealousy if someone else comes to Izumi's rescue, she doesn't go so far as to feel that their relationship is off.

The two of them have a solid, albeit, young relationship. How their relationship is portrayed reminds me of a high school centered manga version of the old series Hart to Hart.

Four stars

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The Ghost and the Stolen Tears: 03/28/23

The Ghost and the Stolen Tears

The Ghost and the Stolen Tears by Cleo Coyle and Traci Odom (Narrator) (2022) is the eighth book in the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. "Nomad" Nora flees at the same time a guest at the B&B declares that her precious pendant and earrings have been stolen.

Collectively they are known as the Tears of Valentino and the PI ghost Jack knows their tragic history. Can Jack's memories help Penelope find the jewelry and clear Nora's name?

This mystery had a nice mixture of suspense and puzzle solving. With someone killing potential witnesses I was understandably worried that Nora was either among the dead or was the murderer. Even if the jewelry was priceless the amount of bloodshed leads to questions of motive. What would drive someone to be so ruthless? Although I figured out the who was so driven, it took until nearly the end of the novel for the explanation.

Like the previous audiobook, this one only has a single narrator. It's such an improvement over the earlier books. It keeps everyone present and past with the same voice and is less jarring.

This novel would pair well with The Game Is a Footnote by Vicki Delany (2023).

The ninth book, The Ghost Goes to the Dogs releases on May 2, 2023.

Five stars

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Till Death Do Us Port: 03/27/23

Till Death Do Us Port

Till Death Do Us Port by Kate Lansing and Brooke Hoover (Narrator) (2023) is the fourth book in the Colorado Wine mystery series. Parker Valentine is at her cousin, Emma's wedding. She's helping cat wrangle and she's hoping to get her winery into the wedding business.

From the very start of the big day, things are clearly off. The wedding coordinator fires the caterer. Emma is clearly unhappy and overwhelmed. The cat doesn't want to participate. And then there's a scream and the wedding coordinator is dead.

Wedding themed mysteries are always hit or miss. At least this time none of the immediate wedding party ended up dead. Thankfully too, Parker doesn't spend the majority of the book waxing poetic about marriage. I did appreciate her eagerness to use the wedding industry to expand her business.

Till Death Do Us Port is one of the rare mysteries where I remained clueless to the identity of the killer until Parker figured it out. Part of that stems from information being kept from Parker and thus the reader until nearly the end. If the key detail was mentioned earlier, I completely missed it.

Four stars

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The Promised Neverland Volume 2: 03/26/23

The Promised Neverland Volume 1

The Promised Neverland 2 by Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu (Illustrator), and Luise Steggewentz (Translator) (2017) is primarily an extended planning and information gathering session. Norman, Ray and Emma know they need to escape and take as many of the other children with them as possible. Before they can do that, they need to know how Mama and Sister Krone are able to track them. They also need to know every secret about the house they can find out.

Volume 2 continues my reading in German. I've seen the anime adaptation and I'm aware at how season two diverges from the manga. I'll be upfront and say my understanding of this volume wasn't as complete as volume one. When planning is involved there's a lot of subjunctive clauses. There's also a lot of technical jargon in this volume. Besides the planning, there's a lot of time spent on taking sides. Sister Krone has her informant. Mama has another. The trio have dissension in their ranks.

Speaking of Sister Krone, she's far more disturbing in the manga. She's drawn as a caricature of evil, her features distorted. Although Mama has already been unveiled as a monster for her alignment with the demons, she's still drawn as a more anatomically correct human being.

I have two more volumes in German to go before I decide whether to continue in German or switch to English.

Four stars

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To Fudge or Not to Fudge: 03/25/23

To Fudge or Not to Fudge

Like the first book, To Fudge or Not to Fudge by Nancy CoCo and Vanessa Johansson (Narrator) (2014) wastes no time in introducing the dead body to this mystery. This time the body is bones found in mulch. The initial description of a foot being found, while done with a lighthearted tone is grim and grisly.

Allie McMurphy's puppy, Marshmallow or Mal for short, turns out to have a knack for being a cadaver dog. In other ways too, she's turning out to be a very smart puppy. Right now, though, she's a bit hard to handle sometimes.

But she's nothing compared to a giant St Bernard who has free range of Mackinac Island despite the leash laws. This dog too has a fondness for the mulch bones but is much less willing to drop them when asked.

The case of the unidentified body is set against a reality show being filmed on island. Allie is brought in as a contestant when one of the participants bows out at the last minute.

I liked the reality show sub plot, feeling it wasn't as over done as they sometimes are. It was nice to see the participants for the most part were professional and nice to her. Much of the murder plot drama was outside of the show and competition, a rarity. This mystery reminds me of a mix between Sugar and Vice by Eve Calder (2020) and Murder Spills the Tea by Vicki Delany (2022).

Five stars

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Friday I'm in Love : 03/24/23

Friday I'm in Love

Friday I'm in Love by Camryn Garrett (2023) takes it's title from the Cure song, one of many older songs referenced in this YA novel. Mahalia Harris missed the chance to have a Sweet Sixteen party, so she's decided to plan a Coming Out Party for herself.

Mahalia has three problems. Her first one is the budget. Mahalia has a job after school and she has to save from what she earns. Although her mother has promised to match whatever she saves, she still knows she'll have to be extremely frugal.

Her second problem is her BFF Naomi. She has money to spare and no sense of how to do things on a budget. It's hard to plan with her when Naomi expects to just buy whatever catches her eye.

Her final problem is Siobhan, the cute girl from Ireland. Mahalia is head over heels for her the first time they met. But she has a boyfriend and Mahalia just can't find the right words to express how she feels. Nor does she know if she should.

The novel unfolds over the final months of the school year: April, May, and June. Although it's a relatively short amount of time, I did find myself wanting less focus on the mundane details of school life. Of course I'm not the target audience and were I younger, I might have found those scenes more relatable.

The one place where I felt the novel fell short was in its setting. Mahalia lives in San Diego, and near UCSD. That's where I grew up. But there's nothing in the way of details, landmarks, or culture that pegs the setting as actually being San Diego. The city could have been anywhere.

Four stars

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Spy x Family, Volume 7: 03/23/23

Spy x Family, Volume 7

Spy x Family, Volume 7 by Tatsuya Endo (2021) is a bit more episodic than earlier volumes. With so many characters now, there's a chance to expand the world and take some time off from the mission.

Donovan Desmond and his two friends are taken on an overnight fishing trip when it's discovered Donovan is avoiding socializing to focus on studying. While the school rewards academic excellence with stars, the headmaster believes the students should be more well rounded. It's nice to see the school bullies humanized.

Bond also gets a chapter. To avoid an early death either via Yor's cooking or her anger for not eat said cooking, the dog must help Loid complete his mission so he can come home and cook. This chapter is the closest we get to plot progression, and it's a rather silly one.

The book ends with a set up that reminds me of the Niantic arc from Moriarty the Patriot by Shinichi Fukuda. Anya and Loid win raffle to take a cruise. Meanwhile Yor is hired as a bodyguard / assassin for the same cruise.

Five stars

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Hidden Pictures : 03/22/23

Hidden Pictures

Hidden Pictures by Carolyn Keene (2020) is the twentieth book in the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy and her besties are in nearby Shady Oaks for a newly open photography show at a museum that has fallen on hard times. Before they are even settled in, they're alerted to a curse. People are being trapped in the dead photographer's photographs!

The premise of this book sounds more like a Hardy Boys mystery than a Nancy Drew case. I credit the paranormal hints at the CW Nancy Drew series where nearly everything is paranormal. That said, the mystery is grounded in reality and the solution is ultimately a mundane one.

The mystery has two parts.

The first is, where are the missing people? If this were one of my many adult cozies, the missing people would probably be dead. As it's not, they are alive and just elsewhere. Nancy early on has a very good idea where but needs to figure out who she can trust to gain access to them.

The second is who and how behind the altered photographs. Again, the how is revealed fairly early in the novel. But there's still the who, and I suppose the why.

Despite the nuts and bolts of this case being pretty obvious it was still a satisfying read. The problem here wasn't one of solving a puzzle, as sometimes these cases are. Instead it centered on Nancy's ability to read people to figure out whom to trust.

The 21st book is The Vanishing Statue (2020).

Three stars

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Victory City : 03/21/23

Victory City

Victory City by Salman Rushdie (2023) is a fantasy retelling of a piece of India's history, specifically the area that's now the southern end of the country. It's told through the purported epic poem (translated, of course) of Pampa Kampana, a woman who founded a kingdom and lived until it fell.

As the narrative is being told through the words of a nearly immortal woman, one is reminded of Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928). Woolf's "biography" is both an exploration of gender and a history of England. Victory City tries to do the same for southern India but, for me at least, misses the mark.

Although the words come from a woman, she's not the focus of the novel, beyond the translator making comments on her words or on inconsistencies within the text. Instead the focus is on the kingdom and the men who run it or otherwise influence it.

The brother shepherds turned kings by Pampa Kampana's magic enhanced seeds also put this novel on the Road Narrative Spectrum. I am including a chart showing Victory City's placement relative to Orlando's.

Comparison of placement on the Road Narrative Spectrum between Orlando and Victory City.

Three stars

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She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, Volume 1: 03/19/23

She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, Volume

She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat, Volume 1 by Sakaomi Yuzaki and Caleb David Cook (Translator) (2021) is one of the most wholesome feel good romances I've read in awhile, in any format. It's also going for the slow burn, so be prepared.

Nomoto cooks to destress. She's someone who would be happiest "cooking for an army" as my grandmother used to say. One night she sees her neighbor Kasuga coming home with a bucket of fried chicken and all the sides. It's a family sized meal but Nomoto knows her neighbor lives alone.

And so a plan is hatched. The next time Nomoto gets the urge to cook too much, she cooks with Kasuga in mind. Over the course of many shared meals, a friendship blossoms. That in turn begins to grow into warmer feelings.

The first volume wraps up shortly after their first outing together. It wasn't exactly a date but it stood in nicely for what will certainly be future dates. It also gives both women the idea to plan their first Christmas together.

So far there's been nothing physical. No kissing. No hand holding. Certainly nothing situational that would lead to sharing a bed or similar. There's just two adult women enjoying each other's company, usually over the process of cooking and eating food.

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

Five stars

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Busy Day, Busy People: 03/18/23

Busy Day, Busy People

Busy Day, Busy People by Tibor Gergely (1973), one of my favorite picture books, is two weeks older than I am. I decided to re-read it and review it after realizing that it's written and illustrated by the illustrator of Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton (1946)

The book covers some typical (of 1973) activities seen in a big city. Given the design of the subway, the model city is probably New York. Things shown include a construction site, a post office, a grocery store, and a hospital.

New parents in full 1970s attire looking at the new babies.

In the hospital there's a nursery with a masked nurse holding up a newborn. That baby might as well be me, since I'm so close in age to this soon to be 50 year old book!

Another detail I like is at the television studio where a show is being broadcast live — something not done often here in California given time delays. The show the boy is watching is The Wizard of Oz but it's clearly drawing from the original 1900 book.

Dorothy is wearing silver slippers. The Wicked Witch of the West has a pointed hat and an umbrella.

Filming a TV version of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The book is a bit dated in how gendered the jobs are. There are no women at the construction site, nor at the fire station. But the people shown are diverse. For now it's more of a time capsule on how things were instead of how things are.

Five stars

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Lost in the Moment and Found: 03/17/23

Lost in the Moment and Found

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire (2023) is the eighth novel in the Wayward Children fantasy series. Antsy lost her father in Target. Now she has a stepfather who lies and doesn't respect her personal space. If she stays at home, he'll probably do worse to her. So she leaves.

Instead of finding someone with a phone where she can call her grandmother, she finds a door to the Shop Where Lost Things Go. It's a junk shop where doors come and go. But Antsy can't go until she's ready to be found. The price for her freedom is time.

Antsy is younger than Zib and Avery but she's written so much better. She has the agency and humanity that those two lack. Lost in the Moment and Found is everything that the Up and Under Books could and should be.

Complex chart showing the placement and relationships of all the Wayward Children books on the Road Narrative Spectrum to date

Like the previous books in this series, it sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Antsy having seen her father die and losing her mother to a new husband is an orphan (FF) when her door finds her. Her desired destination is a new home (66) where she once again can feel safe. Her route there is the Blue Highway (33), both in the route she walks to get to the shop, and later via the bus she rides to the School for Wayward Children.

The ninth book is due early next year.

Four stars

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The Other World's Books Depend on the Bean Counter, Volume 1: 03/16/23

The Other World's Books Depend on the Bean Counter, Volume 1

The Other World's Books Depend on the Bean Counter, Volume 1 by Kazuki Irodori (2020) is the first volume of an isekai BL manga series. Kondou, an overworked accountant from Japan is accidentally summoned to another world when the woman next to him is brought over to be the new holy maiden. Wanting to make a life for himself, he asks for a job managing the kingdom's books. He's put in with the others of the "Funnel Department."

Kondou, even in a new world, doesn't know how to take a break. He finds himself in a kingdom with no sense of how to balance the books. They're running inefficiently and on the brink of financial disaster. So he decides to fix things even at the cost of his own health.

And that's where the BL love comes in. I'm not going to describe it here because the set up is just so ridiculous that it needs to be experienced. Let's say it uses situational logic along the lines of having sex with a hyperthermic person to warm the up.

Despite the laughable ending, I'm invested in the shaky economic health of the kingdom. I've already bought volume two and will be reading it soon.

Five stars

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Dead-End Detective: 03/15/23

Dead-End Detective

Dead-End Detective by Amanda Flower and Laura Faye Smith (Narrator) (2020) is the start of the Piper and Porter mystery series. Set in New York in a town along Seneca Lake, it begins with Darby Piper's business partner, Samatha Porter, being killed in a hit and run automobile accident.

Samantha and Darby had been co-owners of the Two Girls Detective Agency. Darby believed she would inherit the business on Samantha's death but learned instead that Samantha's portion (the 60% share) went instead to her nephew, Tate. She hasn't seen him in a years and is shocked when he suddenly shows up to help her solve Samantha's murder. There's just one big problem. Someone is clearly trying to frame Darby!

Initially this one had me guessing. The crime seemed so out of the blue, beyond the initial tension between the two women. Samantha had been planning to close the company to work for a local resort as their head of security. It's the motive that makes Darby's frame up so convincing.

Ultimately though, despite the complicated business shenanigans at the resort and a cold case, there just weren't enough people in this mystery to keep me confused. At about the mid point there was only one person who was the obvious person. Their motivation was sketchy at best but certainly one I've seen in plenty of other mysteries.

The second book is Frozen Detective (2022)

Four stars

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How to Sell a Haunted House: 03/14/23

How to Sell a Haunted House

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix (2023) reads like a Goosebumps book for adults. Louise has made a life for herself and her daughter in San Francisco. The sudden and violent deaths of her parents call her home to deal with their estate and long forgotten generational trauma.

Louise's brother, Mark, whom she remembers as an unmotivated loser, wants to get through the process as quickly as possible. He's hired a junk removal company to clear out the house and has plans to have their parents cremated. Louise balks at his plans and forces herself into the process to great determent to everyone.

Louise and Mark's mother was a puppeteer. She made puppets. She bought puppets. She also had one in particular who already nearly cleaved the family in two.

Now if you are an adult of a certain age you might have grown up on R.L. Stine's books or had children who did. Maybe, like me, you read them when your kids did. If that's you, How to Sell a Haunted House will remind you of two books in particular, Night of the Living Dummy (1993) and Son of Slappy (2013).

Three stars

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Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, Volume 1: 03/13/23

Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, Volume 1

Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, Volume 1 by Ren Eguchi and Kevin Chen (Translator) (2016) is the start of an isakai light novel that in the Winter 2023 season was adapted into an anime. I had already decided to read the series before hearing about the adaptation, but the anime did serve as a reminder that it was on my to be read pile.

Mukouda Tsuyoshi was an average salaryman living a simple life in Japan when he happened to be to near a group of teenagers being summoned to another world. The powers that be not knowing what to do with an extra person, granted him the power of "online shopping" giving him the ability to import groceries and other sundries to his new world.

Of all the things he decides to do with his newfound abilities, he opts for food. Imported modern day food, even the cheap, convenience food varieties, ends up being better than anything he or nearly anyone else can get in this world. It earns him a bit of a reputation and the attention of some supernatural entities: a fenrir wolf and a goddess.

For the most part, this is a fun, upbeat novel. Sometimes, though, there's too much of a tonal shift from the lighthearted, almost off the cuff style of writing, to more serious talks of war, monsters, or other danger. This disconnect is most noticeable in the earliest chapters. As the book settled down into its story.

Four stars

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Outbreak Diaries: 03/12/23

Outbreak Diaries

Outbreak Diaries by Jason Turner (2022) is a graphic novel styled account of the first year and a half of COVID-19 as experienced in Vancouver, Canada. The book began as a webcomic but was crowdfunded for publication.

The book covers Jason and Manien's life as COVID forced the world to change. Their work routines, weekly outings, basic chores even, all changed.

While being tightly focused on a few square blocks in Vancouver, in and around Dude Chilling Park, there's still a universality to how COVID shocked everyone and changed the basics of living for the survivors.

There are also many pages dedicated to the emotional hit that COVID brought. First with the worry over an unknown illness, then with the isolation from the lockdowns, and the lack of work and resources. But there's also the on-going fear as things try to return to normal.

The one disappointment to the book is that it just stops. There's no wrap up, no sense of a conclusion.

Four stars

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Reggie and Delilah's Year of Falling: 03/11/23

Reggie and Delilah's Year of Falling

Reggie and Delilah's Year of Falling by Elise Bryant (2023) follows a year in the lives of Reggie and Delilah as they find themselves and become a couple in the process. Reggie is a D&D DM and someone who loves to analyze social issues as they are represented in gaming. Delilah is the reluctant lead singer of the Fun Gi's.

Both have a good case of imposter syndrome. Reggie is dyslexic and relies on speech to text to write his articles. Delilah at the start of the book doesn't know how to play an instrument or read music. Then, unfortunately, both are in spaces considered default white spaces: tabletop gaming and punk music. For Delilah it's even more uncomfortable being the only Black member of the band.

Their insecurities are part of what holds them back from becoming a couple despite both being into each other. As the chapters alternate points of view we know how each feels about the other but we also know how much they are faking it to make it. Even when they are feeling unsure of themselves and unsure of their worthiness to date the other, both are delightfully respectful and caring.

Reggie and Delilah are also one of the most relatable romantic couples I've read. The way their meetings align with holidays — first the big ones and then any holiday they can think of — align with how my early dating went. Our first kiss happened on Columbus Day because my then almost boyfriend wanted an excuse to see me. Reggie and Delilah's romance follows a similar cute logic.

Five stars

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The Vanderbeekers on the Road: 03/10/23

The Vanderbeekers on the Road

The Vanderbeekers on the Road by Karina Yan Glaser (2022) is the sixth book in the Vanderbeekers series. It starts where The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish (2021) ends. The family, plus Mr. B and Orlando, their dog, and the two cats for their Monterey aunt, are in the van and headed towards New Jersey as they being their arduous trip across the country.

The main goal is to get to Papa and to take him on the road trip Pop-Pop had planned before his untimely death. That alone with the ups and downs of a road trip in an old van would have been enough of a plot. Unfortunately there's a secondary plot involving interviews for Jessie and Orlando at Berkeley.

Jessie and Orlando's plot throws in a ton of secrecy and family sabotage that makes most of the children act out of character. The Vanderbeekers and Orlando are secretive when they're doing something good for someone — to avoid spoiling the surprise. To keep secrets for anything else just isn't how this family functions.

Further more, Oliver and Laney get so verklempt over Jessie and Orlando's plans, they sabotage their appointments. I get that they are young but the five books that come before this show that they know better. Sabotage isn't their go-to response. Their actions here serve only to add unnecessary tension and melodrama to the novel.

Four stars

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Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse: 03/09/23

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (2013) is the start of the Goth Girl series. I bought a copy at a bookstore in Cambridge, England, on our 2015 trip. And then stuff happened and the book got shelved, forgotten about until this year.

Ada Goth lives with her father, the lord of Gashly-Gorm manor. He is still grieving the death of his beloved wife and has therefore put constraints on Ada's life, particularly the order that she wear loud, stompy boots so she can be heard (and not seen).

The book opens with Ada meeting the ghost of a mouse recently dispatched by a mousetrap. Together she's introduced to the children of staff who live at the manor that she has so far not had the chance to interact with. With her new living friends she learns of untoward things happening in relation to the upcoming metaphorical bicycle race and indoor game hunt.

Much of the plot, guests and jokes are built around poking fun at Victorian literature, tropes, and traditions. You don't have to know them to enjoy the book but familiarity with them makes the book extra silly.

Like the Ottoline books, this one is intricately illustrated throughout. Some pages just need extra time to take in the artwork and all the added details.

The second book is Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death (2014), which sounds like a Midsomer Murders title.

Five stars

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Sorry, Bro: 03/08/23

Sorry, Bro

Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni (2023) is an Armenian-American romance set in San Francisco and the peninsula. Nar's non-Armenian boyfriend proposes on the night before he leaves for an extended trip to Germany. Taken by surprise and underwhelmed by the location (a loud, German themed restaurant), she demurs from giving an answer.

By the time Nar is home — a house she shares with her widowed mother — she has decided to try dating Armenian men. Though she's older than many of the minglers, she re-enters the Armenian dating scene. What she's not expecting, even though she's bi, is the fall head over heels for a woman who embraces Armenian history and culture in ways Nar has been avoiding.

It was fascinating seeing the Bay Area from a queer Armenian perspective. Nar's journey to reconnect with her culture and to face the on-going racism head on makes for a compelling story all on its own. Her friendship and ultimately romance with Erebuni makes this novel all the more special.

Five stars

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Dinosaur Sanctuary, Volume 1: 03/07/23

Dinosaur Sanctuary, Volume 1

Dinosaur Sanctuary, Volume 1 by Itaru Kinoshita (2021) is the start of a manga about Jurassic Park but on a worldwide level. After finding a small island population of dinosaurs, scientists managed to bring back extinct species. Now these dinosaurs are kept in various reserves around the world.

Suma Suzume, our protagonist, has started work at a dino sanctuary that has fallen on hard times. She struggles through hazing by one of her male colleagues and trying her best to help during a medical emergency. Her chance to shine comes when she finds a way of turning a tragedy into a learning experience for guests.

Overall I liked this first volume. The pacing felt off in a few places, especially where the author had trouble balancing dramatic backstories with present day gags. The information, though, about the different species is pretty good and the artwork includes some dinosaurs with feathers.

Volume 2 releases on March 14th.

Four stars

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Cat Raise the Dead: 03/06/23

Cat Raise the Dead

Cat Raise the Dead by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (1997) is the third Joe Grey mystery series. This series serves as a missing link between the pre-cozy animal themed mysteries, such as the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun and a more recent cozy series, Magical Cats by Sofie Kelly, where the animals are magic but don't get POV chapters.

Having now tried three books in this series, I've come to the conclusion that I prefer my animals to not have POV chapters, unless they are going to carry the entire novel, such as the Birdie and Bowser series by Spencer Quinn. This novel is 304 pages, but it takes half that time establishing that the cats are in fact cats, except that Joe can talk and be understood by his human.

The novel starts with a series of cat burglaries, taken from the point of view of the criminal. She happens to be spotted by one of our two cat protagonists and wastes even more pages trying to get away from the cat.

But these robberies have almost nothing to do with the larger mystery at hand — a series of mysterious deaths an disappearances at a retirement home. The actual mystery is maybe a hundred pages total and it's fighting for the readers attention with feline shenanigans and the cat burglar.

The fourth book is Cat in the Dark (1998).

Two stars

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Camp Creepy: 03/05/23

Camp Creepy

Camp Creepy by Kiersten White (2023) is the third of the Sinister Summer middle grade mystery books. Going on a clue found in a book at the Spa, the Sinister-Winterbottoms head to Camp Creek. Although they plan just to snoop and leave, circumstances leave the twins as campers and Wil as a counselor!

Something is changing the personalities of the campers and counselors. Everyone speaks in happy exclamations! Everyone enjoys everything. Everyone works together. Everyone gets good sleep. Everyone is always smiling.

To me, the camp reminds me of the one Wednesday Addams is sent to in Addams Family Values (1993). Except, maybe, worse. Or orthogonally bad.

The Wretched Waterpark (2022) was an homage to Jane Eyre (1847). The Vampiric Vacation was even more clearly a nod to Dracula (1897). This third volume draws inspiration from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).

As the Sinister-Winterbottoms have gone from place to place they have learned more about a larger problem at hand. Their parents' sudden departure is probably related to whatever or whomever have taken many of the other parents of children they've met along the way. As each of these kids has a want and need to find their parents, the overall tone of these novels and their placement on the Road Narrative Spectrum changes.

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

The siblings and the other children and Edgar who is a teen like Wil, collectively are scarecrows (protectors) (99). They are going up against Edgaren't and the other adults who have taken over while the parents are missing. These adults are the minotaurs in this dichotomy.

Like the previous book, their destination is the wildlands. From a mountain spa to a lakeside summer camp (99). Their route, though, this time is the tkaronto (FF) as described by their walk through the trees near the lake.

As the stakes are much higher than they seemed in the first two books, the twins are now finally working more closely with Wil. She has been sitting on some key information that changes the nature of these books. It also, though, confirms that there is magic or at least supernatural things afoot.

The fourth book is Menacing Manor which is scheduled for release on May 2, 2023.

Five stars

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The Gathering: 03/03/23

The Gathering

The Gathering by Dan Poblocki (2016) is the start of the Shadow House middle grade horror series. Poppy an orphan, twins Dash and Dylan, cellist Marcus, and Azumi whose sister got lost in Japan, are summoned to Larkspur. Each one goes with a different set of expectations: a long lost relative, a TV show, a music school, and a private school. None of those reasons turn out to be true.

Some houses are just hungry for people. Larkspur is like a mix of Hill House and the lodge in Dead Voices. This is a house whose architecture makes no sense. It's bigger on the inside but it's not a TARDIS. Rooms move. Rooms disappear. Hallways grow. And it's haunted.

Like Eleanor and the others summoned to Hill House, these children have already had experience with the paranormal. In one way or another they are haunted. Now in the house, how they've been haunted before will determine which ghost takes a liking to them.

Like the two books I've mentioned in comparison, The Gathering sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The children, because of their pairing with a ghost puts them collectively into the scarecrow / minotaur dichotomy of traveler (99). Their destination is home, meaning a place where they feel safe and loved — as Larkspur promised to be but fails at (66). Their route there is the maze (CC) represented literally by the changing interior and metaphorically by the danger they face inside the house.

The second book is You Can't Hide (2016).

Five stars

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Little Toot: 03/02/23

Little Toot

Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky (1939) is another, perhaps the first, picture book, about a tugboat. I read this book twelve years ago but back then, decided not to review it. Back then I had a four hundred or so backlog of reviews to write and post, and I suspect I was disappointed that the book wasn't Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton (1946).

Time passes and in all honesty, I'd forgotten about reading Little Toot. I was reminded of the book by a Mastodon user who said he remembered this book as a child and I promised him I'd review it. So here we are!

Where Scuffy is a sentient toy living in a world of humans, Little Toot is a sentient child tugboat from a family of tugboats. There are definitely humans, animals, and other creatures in Scuffy's world. Little Toot's world appears to more like the world of Cars, meaning sentient vehicles and no people. Although in the Disney short (1948), there are people, though they aren't the main focus.

Little Toot, then, is about a youngster learning the family business and needing to do some growing up along the way. He goofs off because he's young and unsupervised. He saves the day because in all of his parallel playing he has learned how to tug and he's small enough to ride the waves to pull the stranded ship into the harbor during the storm.

There are a number of other books in the Little Toot series. The second book is Little Toot on the Thames (1964).

Four stars

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February 2023 Sources: 03/02/23

Previous month's book sources

Cold weather and more rain kept us inside a lot last month as well, though not as much as January.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In February I read 22 TBR books, up from January's 17 TBR. One book was published in January. Three books were for research and one was a review copy. None were from the library. My ROOB score for February is down significantly to -4.30. It is my best February in 13 years of tracking this metric.

The current year's data is represented by a triangle on the graph below.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

I predicted a -2.75 for February and did much better. For March, I'm predicting -3.75.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for February improved slightly, going from -2.51 to -2.65.

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Mission to Murder: 03/01/23

Mission to Murder

Mission to Murder by Lynn Cahoon and Susan Boyce (Narrator) (2014) is the second book in the Tourist Trap mystery series. Jill Gardner has hit a roadblock in her attempt to get the wall in her back garden recognized as a historic site. The owner of the Castle (think a fictional Hearst Castle) has decided to fight her claim. Things are further complicated when he's murdered.

His murder and his reasoning for blocking the wall appraisal end up being a source of many red herrings. Even after having read the book, I'm not sure why he was against the wall beyond wanting all the money for himself.

Regardless, the book is still entertaining. The wall and the possible mission site are interesting details but not the main focus of the mystery or even the series.

The third book is If the Shoe Kills (2014).

Five stars

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February 2023 Summary: 03/01/23

Reading report

February was a drying out period followed by more rain and even some local snow, though not in our neighborhood. The weather has impacted mail delivery some. It also meant the annual blossoming of our plum tree. There was also a week vacation for my husband and our youngest. We'd made plans but ended up ditching them because that was the week of bad weather.

I read one fewer books in January, 27, down from 28 in the previous month. Of my read books, sixteen were diverse and seven were queer. I reviewed 28 books, down three from the previous month. On the reviews front, 20 were diverse and six were queer.

I have three books left to review of the 320 books I read in 2022 and 31 books of the 55 I've read so far in 2023.

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