Monday, January 4, 2016

December 2015 Monthly Reading Summary

Let me be among the last to welcome you to 2016!  We're a couple of days into the new year, but I'm just now posting my monthly reading summary for the month.  Here's what I read in December.  And, as always, the Index has been updated with all my review for the month.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

The Ghost of Mistletoe Mary by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Ghost of Granny Apples #5.5)
Retired cop turned PI Jeremiah Jones is asked to help out a vet on skid row in Los Angeles.  This vet is ranting to anyone who will listen that Mistletoe Mary has been murdered.  Jeremiah thinks that Mary’s ghost may be visiting and trying to get justice.  Is he right?  Can he team up with Granny to figure out what is happening?

While this book is set during December, it’s not your typical cozy since it is set on skid row and includes many of the types of characters you’d expect to see down there.  But don’t let that stop you from reading it.  Being a novella, the pace never lags.  Yet the shorter length doesn’t mean we get shallow characters – they are as strong as ever in one of Sue Ann’s stories.

NOTE: I received a copy of this novella in exchange for my honest review.

Sugar and Iced by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery #6) – 4
Much to Mel’s dismay, Fairytale Cupcakes has gotten roped into providing cupcakes for the Sweet Tiara pageant.  But when their friend Lupe is accused of murdering the head judge after a very public fight with the woman on the first day, Mel and Angie must figure out whose outward beauty is hiding a very ugly heart.

I hadn’t planned to pick up this book so fast, but after the cliffhanger that ended the previous book, I had to know what was going to happen next.  We get those updates early on in the book, and I found the romantic relationships to continue to delight, even providing some great laughs.  The characters are as strong as ever, and I like seeing how they are growing and their relationships are changing.  I do feel that the mystery was overshadowed by the characters and the pageant, but I still loved every page of this book.

The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle by Laura DiSilverio (Bookclub Mysteries #2) – 5
Amy-Faye Johnson’s brother, Derek, is about to open his brewery, a moment that the entire family should be celebrating.  However, the business is off to a rocky start thanks to Derek’s investment partner, Gordon Marsh, who is fighting with everyone, including Derek.  The grand opening ends with Gordon’s body found in the dumpster, and the police looking at Derek.  With Murder on the Orient Express fresh in their minds, Amy-Faye and her friends in the Readaholics delve into the case.  But can they shift through the various suspects and motives to find the right killer?

This is a great mystery with quite a few suspects and plenty of twists that kept me guessing until the end.  There is a large cast of characters, but they are all strong characters, and I had no trouble at all keeping them all straight.  The ending was logical, given the real clues that were mixed in with the red herrings.  The tie ins to the Christie classic were fun.  And the friendships in the Readaholics is a pure joy to see.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems – 5
Flea is a street dog in Paris who lives by his wits all alone.  Diva is a cat in a small apartment building who is afraid of everything.  When their paths cross one day, they build a friendship.  How might that change their lives?

This early chapter book is longer than normal for author Mo Willems, but it still holds all of his charm and bits of humor.  The story is utterly charming for all ages, and the lessons about the power of friendship are great.

To Brew or Not to Brew by Joyce Tremel (Brewing Trouble Mysteries #1) – 4
Maxine “Max” O’Hara is only a month away from opening her new brewpub in Pittsburg.  Unfortunately, she is having very bad luck with things that keep going wrong.  Her friend Kurt, who is supposed to be in charge of the kitchen, thinks it is sabotage.  After he calls Max one night, she arrives to find him dead in the brewery.  Was he right?  Can Max find the killer before her new business tanks?

While the book started with a bang, it then slowed down a bit to set up the series before fully getting into the mystery.  By the time we reached the end, things were moving quickly and I couldn’t put it down before the great ending.  The characters are charming and leap off the page.  I’m already looking forward to visiting them again.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Here Today, Gone Tamale by Rebecca Adler (Taste of Texas Mysteries #1) – 4
Josie Callahan is back working at her family’s Tex Mex restaurant while she figures out what is next in her life.  She’s just in time for the Wild Wild West Festival that brings in the tourists to the small town of Broken Boot.  But the tamale making party at the restaurant ends in tragedy when a local artist is found murdered behind the restaurant.  Who would want to kill her?

It took me a little while to fully get into this book.  There were a bunch of characters early on, and I struggled to keep them all straight.  Likewise, the mystery got off to a slow start.  But as I kept reading, I grew to like the characters and really got into the story.  The ending was surprising and suspenseful.  I can easily see this growing into a charming series.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #3) – 4
A gypsy woman is traveling through the village where eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce lives, and Flavia invites the woman to set up camp in the pasture on the edge of the family property.  Late that night, someone attacks the woman, and Flavia feels responsible for figuring out what exactly happened to her guest.  Can she do it?

Flavia is a different character for a series aimed at adults, and I find I do enjoy spending time with her.  Unfortunately, she can get annoying at times, and I definitely found that the case here as I wanted to slap some sense into her.  Other characters tried, so that made me feel better.  The story can get a bit bogged down in Flavia’s side stories in the narration, but it was a pleasure seeing how the various threads were all brought together for the climax.

Away in a Manger by Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy #15) – 5
Christmas 1905 is approaching, and Molly is looking forward to spending a quiet holiday with her family.  However, a young girl out in the cold attracts her attention, and she feels compelled to find out all she can about this girl’s family.  Her mother disappeared months ago.  What happened to her?  Does the girl have any family left who would take her in?

The book gives us a wonderful look at Christmas in another time as we see different traditions we don’t follow any more.  But that feeling is balanced by the mystery, which has some serious tones to it.  Rhys Bowen balances the two perfectly.  Mix in our favorite characters, and you’ve got a Christmas mystery to savor.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal (Maggie Hope #5) – 2
Maggie Hope has returned to the US.  She’s come back as part of Prime Minster Churchill’s staff during his historic meeting with President Roosevelt during December 1941.  They’ve hardly arrived when Maggie gets pulled into a case involving the First Lady.  Mrs. Roosevelt’s personal secretary is dead from an apparent suicide, but something seems off, and there is a clue that points to the First Lady.  A scandal could derail this new alliance.  Can Maggie find the truth before the lies come out?

I’ve enjoyed the previous books in this series, so I was looking forward to this one.  Sadly, it is extremely weak.  The mystery took a back seat to watching history unfold and sub-plots that involved supporting characters.  All the characters felt weak, and one devolved into someone I didn’t like.  But my real problem were the lectures on everything from race to imperialism and capital punishment, which again slowed things down.

The Humbug Murders by L. J. Oliver (Ebenezer Scrooge Mysteries #1) – 3
It’s the week before Christmas, and Scrooge is delighted to receive a visit from his friend Fezziwig.  Only Fezziwig announces that he has been murdered and after three more murders, the killer will come after Scrooge.  Unfortunately, Fezziwig really is dead.  Can Scrooge figure out what is going on and stop the killer before he dies?

As a fan of A Christmas Carol, I had to give this book a try.  There are multiple references to the famous story, and I completely enjoyed them.  We also get cameos from other Dickens characters and Charles Dickens himself is a main character in the story.  The plot wandered around a bit before really gaining focus, and the book was definitely more violent and darker than I normally enjoy.  I’m glad I read it, and those who enjoy darker books might enjoy it.

Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen by Vicki Delany (Year-Round Christmas Mysteries #1) – 4
December is the height of tourist season for Rudolph, New York, a town that has built its economy around celebrating Christmas.  This year, a reporter is coming to cover the annual Christmas parade, but when Merry Wilkinson finds him dead in a park that night, it looks like someone is out to kill the Christmas spirit in town.

This is a delightful first in a new series.  You can feel the Christmas spirit in the shops, the carols, the characters.  All of it is well executed, and I wish it were a real place so I could go visit.  Unfortunately, that spirit did overwhelm the mystery a few times, especially near the beginning, but the plot did build to a logical climax.

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss – 5
Mayzie the bird is tired of trying to hatch her egg, so Horton, an elephant, agrees to keep it warm for her.  Will he stick with it no matter what happens to him?

This is a Dr. Seuss classic told in rhyme with wonderful illustrations.  I loved it as a kid, and it holds up well today.  Plus it has a good lesson about stilling to your commitments.

Adam Raccoon at Forever Falls by Glen Keane – 5
Adam Raccoon loves to swim and could do it all day, but there is one pool he longs to swim in most of all.  King Aren has forbidden swimming in it since it is the pool right above Forever Falls.  But a quick dip can’t hurt, right?

This picture book is a wonderful allegory about our need for salvation.  No, it’s not exactly subtle, but it’s a parable, it’s not supposed to be.  But it tells a fun story along the way, and the wonderful illustrations will keep kids interested.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the brief, easy-to-read reviews - even of children's books. I will be joining this site and looking forward to reading about your January books, as well as looking into some of these you have mentioned here.

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    1. Thank you so much! Hope you find something you enjoy.

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  2. Fantastic month for books! Happy 2016!

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  3. Happy New Year!
    You had a busy month--still some titles on there I want to get to!

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    1. Same to you. Always way more books to read than time to read them, right?

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  4. Sounds like you had a very productive month in reading. Its nice that you took the time to read so many Christmas books as well.

    I saw your post on the Book Bloggers Do It Better group on facebook about wanting feedback on your new banner. I like it. Its unique from other bloggers and shows the diversity of your posts. :)

    Hope you have a wonderful January.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. Maybe I just need to get used to the change.

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  5. I love everything by Mo Williems!

    You asked for feedback on your new banner - I like the picture, but the colors make the "Reviews from a collector and media addict" a little hard to read. I think if you made the font darker, or a lot lighter that would help :)

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    1. Yes, the "description" is one of the things I'm struggling with most. Based on your suggestion (thanks!) I did darken it, but there are still parts of the background that I just can't do anything about. Lighter was definitely not an option. And I can't manipulate it like I'd like thanks to Blogger setting the template up a certain way.

      I'll keep playing around with it and see if I find anything better.

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