Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October 2018's Monthly Reading Summary

Happy Halloween!  That can only mean one thing - it's time for the monthly reading summary.

And yes, the Index has been updated.

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

The Spirit in Question by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila #3) – 4
Lila has been talked into working on a play that her university is putting on this semester.  The play is Puzzled: The Musical written by Tolliver Ingersoll, a fellow professor at Stonedale University, and it's being directed by Jean Claude Lestronge, who is visiting the college for the semester.  Putting the play on is proving to be a struggle, but things get more interesting when someone is shot during a planned blackout.  That's when Lila starts to hear some stories about the history of this particular theater.  Could that have something to do with what is currently happening?  Or is there a more modern motive for murder?

There is a lot happening in this book, and at times, the plot appears to ramble as a result.  The murder definitely takes a back seat to some of the other things going on, but I never found myself getting board since everything was entertaining.  And the various bits and pieces do begin to tie together the further we get into the book.  Because we get so many new characters, we don't see much of most of the series regulars, but the new characters are all developed enough to make us care about the outcome, and Lila continues to be a strong lead.  And the play!  I was laughing at the little bits we did learn about it over the course of the book.  Heck, the song titles alone are great.  It looks like a fun spoof of the mystery genre that I would go see if I could.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #4) – 5
Maggie Crozat's home town of Pelican was flooded out just three weeks ago, but the community is rallying together to repair and rebuild.  And they certainly aren't planning to let that curtail this year's Mardi Gras celebration.  Unfortunately, Maggie has gotten roped in to help with this year's Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen Pageant, something she is definitely against.  However, when she finds one of the judges dead, she begins to wonder if she is in danger because she's taken on this job.  Or does it tie back to the body of the John Doe that was found during the flood?

This is a fantastic book with a creative mystery for us to solve.  A strong sub-plot only adds to the fun of the book, and the climax ties everything together perfectly, including a plot point or two I'd forgotten about.  The characters are fantastic as always; I truly love the large cast of series regulars.  The suspects are strong, although it took a bit to remember how all of them are connected at first.  The cast of characters at the beginning certainly helped with that.  I did find the timeline felt a bit off at a few points, but this was a minor complaint.  I love learning about a completely different region, and author Ellen Byron's love comes through.  The recipes at the end will satisfy the cravings you'll develop while reading the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Designed for Haunting by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson Mysteries #4) – 5
It's a couple of weeks before Halloween, and Aurora “Rory” Anderson and the rest of her painting friends are working on the annual benefit they put on where they sell their work for charity.  That changes when Rory gets an e-mail from Zelena, a friend in her painting group that says the e-mail is being sent to Rory because Zelena is missing.  As Rory begins to investigate, she learns that no one has seen Zelena for several days.  A dead body just increases the stakes.  Can Rory figure out what is really happening?

This is a great mystery with several other mysterious happenings that help cloud the issue.  Yet as Rory sorts through what applies to the main mystery, she leads us to a clear picture of what happened.  It all comes together in a page turning climax.  The characters are strong; the new characters do their job of keeping us wondering what is really happening while Rory and the other series regulars were a delight to be around.  This book evoked a Southern California Halloween for me perfectly, complete with a potentially spooky sub-plot or two to add to the seasonal fun.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Death of a Russian Doll by Barbara Early (Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries #3) – 5
It's been a year since police chief Ken's wife Marya showed up, nipping Liz's romance with Ken in the bud.  She hasn't completely recovered from the shock and hurt, but when Marya shows up murdered in the barbershop next to Well Played, Liz knows she and Ken will both be suspects.  With her father stepping in as police chief, Liz begins to find an alternative suspect.  But who in town knew Marya well enough to kill her?

The plot spends equal time digging into Marya's past while also attempting to figure out how what we learn can bring us any suspects.  The result is a fast paced and fun mystery that leads to a logical solution.  The characters are strong as always, and provide plenty of fun.  I laughed at some of the situations and the puns we got over the course of the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Mark Baker return in a larger roll this time around.  Add in the Christmas setting, and you've got a winner will many layers of fun.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Dastardly Plot by Christopher Healy (A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem #1) – 4
New York City is gearing up for the 1883 World's Fair, and Molly Pepper is hoping her mother, Cassandra, will be able to snag a spot in the inventor's hall to show case some of her amazing inventions.  However, when the spot is given to a man - again - Molly and Cassandra devise a plan to break into the Inventory's Guild.  That's where Molly stumbles upon the plans to sabotage the opening ceremonies.  Who is the villain?  Can Molly stop them?

The book starts out a little slowly, some of which is introducing us to the new characters and new series.  Once the plot got going, the pacing certainly improved, and we got some fun twists that kept the pages turning.  The climax introduced some new threads, and I can't wait to find out what happens next as the series continues.  The characters are strong, and the real and fictional rubbed shoulders with ease.  I did feel the book stopped at times to lecture us on equality - an important topic to be sure - but it felt like it slowed things down briefly when it came up.  This new series has a slight Steampunk element to it, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.  I also enjoyed the pages at the end that told us about some of the same real people and events that underpinned this fictional world.

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1) – 3
Kellan Ayrwick has returned home for a few days to attend a dinner in honor of his father's retirement from Braxton College.  While Kellan's there, he is supposed to meet up with a woman who has done some research for the true crime TV show that he works on.  However, Kellan gets distracted when, near the end of the dinner, he finds a dead body.  The victim was a professor at Braxton.  With everything swirling around the at college, Kellan is afraid that someone he loves will be arrested for the crime.  Can he figure out the truth before that happens?

I wanted to like the book, but I felt it had some flaws to it.  It was overly wordy, especially with some rehashing of things we already knew and theories we'd already considered.  Additionally, there were several nitpicks, like this dinner several months before Kellan's father planned to fully retire.  The mystery, overall, was strong, however.  There were several believable suspects that kept me guessing until Kellan figured things out.  Likewise, I really liked the potential series regulars, and the book introduced several threads that will make for great future books in the series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

I'm Your Venus by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Space Case #2) – 4
Sylvia Stryker has landed a job on the new Moon 6.  Again, she's in charge of the uniform department, but this time she's legitimately on the ship.  Neptune is also on board this cruise, with the destination being Venus.  Everyone is determined to make things go smoothly for the passengers.  However, the ship has barely set out when Sylvia finds a dead body outside the uniform department's door.  Then Neptune comes to her with a surprising plea for help.  Can she figure out what is going on?

Yes, this book has a science fiction setting, but it is still mostly a mystery.  In fact, the setting is developed just enough for us to feel at home, but the story doesn't stop to explain every little detail to us.  Still, there are some fun nod to pop culture science fiction and some of the tech they do have in this book would be very cool.  There are a trio of characters we spent a lot of time with, and they are the best developed.  The rest of the cast is still strong enough for the parts they play in what happens.  The plot is quite a ride, with plenty of keep us engaged and the pages flying.  I read the book in just two days, in fact.  I do feel like some of the character's actions over the course of the book weren't completely explained at the end, but that is my only complaint.  I'm looking forward to getting to book three as soon as my schedule allows to see how some of the threads introduced here play out.

City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #8) – 3
Harry Bosch doesn’t take the call about a human bone serious at first, but this time it turns out that a bone from a human skeleton has been found in a Hollywood neighborhood.  The skeleton is that of an abused pre-teen boy, and he’s been buried for 20 years.  Can Bosch figure out who he was and bring the killer to justice?

I was looking forward to seeing Harry tackle a cold case, figuring we’d get some interesting twists along the way.  Sadly, I was disappointed by the plot, which often gets overshadowed by the various sub-plots going on at the same time.  The mystery’s still okay, but it’s not one of the better books by Michael Connelly.  The characters are still strong, however, and much of what happens is working on Bosch, although I didn’t realize just how much character development we were getting until I reached the end of the book.  The book has the usual levels of foul language, sex, and violence that fans of the series would expect, although it is more than my usual reading choices.  Average Michael Connelly is still enjoyable, and I’m definitely anxious to find out what happens to Bosch next.

Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #10) – 5
Charlie Harris's feline family has grown quite a bit.  Someone left him a box with five kittens in it, and he's taking care of them while trying to track down the owner so he can figure out what to do with them next.  Fortunately, Charlie's Maine Coon cat, Diesel, has taken to the kittens and is helping take care of them as only a cat can.  That isn't the only problem Charlie is facing this Christmas, however.  There's also his new neighbor Geraldine "Call Me Gerry" Albritton.  Gerry is rubbing everyone the wrong way, including Charlie.  Charlie isn't prepared for murder, however, and when one happens, he begins to investigate.  What will he uncover?

Fans of this series know to expect a wonderful puzzle wrapped in a cozy shell, and that's just what we get here, with the Christmas setting only helping the cozy feeling.  The mystery of the kittens occupies much of the early book while the foundations of the main mystery are being laid.  Once the dead body turns up, we focus more on that with the kittens taking their place as a sub-plot.  The twists of the mystery keep the pages flying, and the story takes a more serious tone.  That tone provides a nice contrast to the Christmas season and the kittens, both of which keep the book from becoming too dark.  I was thrilled to get to spend so much time with the series regulars; I just love Charlie's family and extended family.  This book left me with happy tears in my eyes and Christmas carols in my head.  What more could you want?

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Dogged by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #7) – 4
It starts with the discovery of a naked body in Camelback Mountain.  The victim, a female, had been discovered not too far from the hiking path by some early morning hikers.  The weirdest part is that all of the bones in her legs and arms had been broken before she died.  Phoenix homicide detectives Joe Rodriguez and Tommy Flaherty are assigned to the case, but while they are still tracking down the victim's identity, another body is found.  This one has the same broken bones, but it is several months older.  Joe is finding himself distracted by his concerns over his new relationship with Bridgid, Tommy's cousin.  Can he focus on the case long enough to solve it?

I was very pleasantly surprised earlier this year when I saw this book pop up.  This is definitely a book that falls into the traditional part of the mystery spectrum, but it doesn't get much worse than what I teased already.  The plot is strong and doesn't try to delve into the mind of the serial killer, just tries to catch the person, and we get a strong mystery as Joe and Tommy work to do that.  I did feel the ending was a bit weak since it hit two of my pet peeves, but they were minor overall.  The characters are absolutely wonderful, and it was fantastic to see them all again.

I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems (Unlimited Squirrels #1) – 4

Zoom Squirrel has lost one of his front teeth.  Once his friends understand his problem, they pitch in to help find it, especially when they learn it is a baby tooth!  Can they find this baby (tooth) before it gets too frightened?

Fans of Mo Willems won't be surprised at the first two thirds of this book.  It may introduce us to a new set of characters, but the storytelling, humor, and fun are classic Mo, including the easy to read dialogue driven action.  I was trying hard not to laugh in public as I finished it up.  The rest of the book consists of some fun jokes and a couple of sections that tell us about teeth and quiz us on some animal teeth.  It's actually quite interesting, and presented in a fun way, so kids will enjoy learning about it as well.  They might even get interested in learning more on their own, which is a good thing.  I didn't love it as much as I've loved some of his other picture books.  I think my issue is, this isn't an Elephant and Piggie book.  I certainly can't find another reason not to like this book, and I think kids will have so much fun they won't care.

Yule Log Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross – 4
This book contains three Christmas mystery novellas by three different mystery authors featuring their main sleuths.  Up first is the title story by Leslie Meier as Lucy Stone tries to figure out how a young woman died on the set of a movie being filmed in town.  Next comes "Death by Yule Log" by Lee Hollis.  In this story, Hayley Powell meets her daughter's new boyfriend.  While she is less than impressed with him, she begins to poke around when he is accused of murder.  Finally comes "Logged On" by Barbara Ross.  Christmas is approaching, and Julia Snowden is determined to make a great yule log to impress her boyfriend's family.  She's so desperate she gets help from Mrs. St. Onge, an unpleasant neighbor everyone agrees makes the best yule log cakes around.  Only, something seems off.  Can Julia figure out what is going on?

Fans of any of these authors will want to pick up this book.  All three feature strong mysteries.  Each story is around 100 pages, yet still feature some good twists and surprises that kept the pages flying.  I did find the characters in the Lucy Stone story annoying, but that is my only complaint with the book.  I don't read Lee Hollis, but I am tempted to with how much I enjoyed the story here.  I love Barbara Ross's books, so it was fabulous to get another story with them.  You'll get plenty of Christmas spirit while reading this book, and each author includes some recipes you can make after you've finished the book, including three different recipes for yule logs.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. Good lineup. I'm adding to my TBR list :)

  2. 12 books that were all decent reads is fantastic!! Happy November!