Wednesday, May 1, 2019

April 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Another month has come and gone.  Here's my monthly reading summary for April.  As always, the links will take you to the full review of each book.  And yes, I did get the Index updated this month.

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

Death Waits in the Dark by Julia Buckley (Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries #4) – 5
Summer has come to Blue Lake, Indiana, and with it the heat.  Lena London and her mentor, bestselling author Camilla Graham, are trying to finish their latest manuscript, but the heat is making it hard to concentrate.  However, a visit from Jane Wyland doesn’t prove to be a welcome distraction.  Jane and Camilla were acquainted when Camilla first moved to the United States from England, but the two haven’t spoken in decades.  Jane arrives to tell Camilla that she knows the secret the Graham family has been hiding, and Jane is going to share it with the world if Camilla doesn’t step up and acknowledge it first.

The trouble is, Camilla doesn’t know what secret Jane is talking about even when Jane implies that it is something from Camilla’s husband’s past.  The next day, Camilla and Lena go to try to get more information from Jane so they can figure out what has the woman so upset.  However, when they arrive, they discover that Jane has been murdered.  What was this secret from the past, and did it get Jane killed?

As much as I enjoyed the first three books in this series, it was nice to see the plot move away from Lena’s boyfriend and focus on another character.  This change also allowed the book to have even more of a gothic feel to it than the first three.  While I’m not super familiar with that genre, I was definitely able to recognize elements of it as the book unfolded, and I enjoyed seeing how it was combined seamlessly with elements of a cozy mystery.  The result works and we get a story that drew me in each time I picked up the book and made it hard to put down.  The usual cast of characters are still here, and it was great to see them.  The suspects didn’t get much page time, but they work perfectly for the story as it is told here since the main drive was to figure out what secret from the past upset Jane so much.  This is a fun twist on the cozy mystery, and if you are looking for something slightly different, be sure to pick it up.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder from Scratch by Leslie Karst (Sally Solari #4) – 4
Sally Solari gets the news from her father that her distant cousin Jackie has died of a drug overdose.  While Sally is sad, she and Jackie weren’t close – in fact, they hadn’t spoken in years and she hadn’t met Evelyn, Jackie’s twenty-year-old daughter, who happens to be blind.  Evelyn was still living with her mom, and she can’t face trying to live in the house alone right away, so she winds up moving into Sally’s spare room for a little while.  The two women hit it off, and are soon plotting home cooked meals and plans for Evelyn’s twenty-first birthday.

A stop by Evelyn’s house to pick up a few things she needs bring some surprises to light.  Things are out of place.  Since Evelyn is blind, she and her mother kept everything in the same spot so that Evelyn could always find what she is looking for without needing help.  Evelyn suspects this means someone else was in the house when her mom died.  The police have ruled it a suicide by drug overdose, but is Evelyn right?  If so, can Sally see the clues to find the killer?

There is a solid mystery here with several viable suspects.  I did feel the pacing was a bit off, but I loved how Sally pieced things together and how the climax played out.  Sally’s group of family and friends is wonderful, and a couple of sub plots allow us to see more of them.  The book is set in the beginning of December; while it doesn’t have a lot of Christmas spirit, there is some, and it adds a fun touch to the book.  The standout character here is Evelyn.  Through her, we get a look at modern life for a person who is blind, and I found that fascinating.  We get five recipes at the end, and they sound delicious if a bit ambitious for this lazy bachelor to attempt to make.  (Not that I ever make any of the recipes in the culinary cozies I read.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Dream of Death by Connie Berry (Kate Hamilton Mysteries #1) – 5
Kate Hamilton has returned to the Isle of Glenroth off the coast of Scotland, something she swore she would never do after the death of her husband three years ago.  She’s come in response to a plea for help from her sister-in-law, Elenor, but Elenor won’t say more until after the Tartan Ball she is hosting for island residence the night Kate arrives.  Elenor makes a couple of shocking announcements during the ball and then turns up murdered the next morning.  Kate sees parallels to a 200-year-old crime from the island’s past that has recently been brought to back to prominence thanks to a bestselling novel.  The police dismiss the similarity as a coincidence, but is Kate on to something?

I was hesitant to pick up this book because of all the books already on my to be read mountain range, but I’m glad I did.  This book has a lot going on with a possible ghost, an old house, and the mystery from the past that might be leading to the murder in the present all coming into play.  Coupled with the dreary weather, and I got a Gothic feel as I read this book.  That atmosphere is enhanced by characters who are all strong, giving us plenty of suspects with motives and secrets all their own.  With everything going on, the pace never lags, and I was frustrated every time I had to put the book down.  Even though Kate isn’t at home for this book, we still got a glimpse of her family, and I hope we get to see more of them in future books.  Kate owns an antique shop, and her knowledge of antiques came into play here in an interesting way.  This is a strong debut that needs to be on your to be read list.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Dyeing Season by Karen MacInernery (Dewberry Farm #5) – 5
A sudden spring tornado finds Lucy scrambling to protect her property.  When she goes to her elderly neighbor’s place, she finds Dottie alone with no idea where her home health aid is.  This isn’t like Eva, so the women are worried.  It’s only after the storm has passed that they get an answer when Lucy finds Eva’s body.  Even with the tornado having just passed, it is very clear that Eva was murdered.  The tornado left behind destruction to Lucy’s crops, so she needs to replant, but she can’t help begin to investigate what happened to Eva.  Will she uncover the truth?

Being a wind hating California native, this book hooked me from the opening tornado.  That didn’t diminish a bit when the storm ended and Lucy found the body.  The plot is strong and, while not a typical cozy formula, held my attention the entire time as I waited to see how Lucy could prove what she was pretty sure was happening and who the killer would turn out to be.  It’s wonderful to spend time with these characters again, and I enjoyed getting to know some new ones, too.  I suspect we’ll see more of some of them in future books; at least I hope so.  I did catch a few annoying editing issues, but they can be easily fixed and don’t impact the story at all; in fact, they vanish as we get further into the book.  There are seven recipes at the end, including natural dyes for eggs, perfect for Easter.  This is a fast, fun read that will leave cozy fans anxious for their next trip to visit Lucy.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

More Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina with Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer – 3
This book picks up right after the classic ends.  The peddler is walking home after having gotten his caps back from the monkeys.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that the monkeys are following him home.  When he does discover them in his yard, what will he do?  And what will happen when he goes into town to sell his caps the next day?

I loved the original as a kid, so I was curious to see what happened in the sequel.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the charm of the first book.  The original was surprising and funny, but here the interactions with the monkeys feel predictable, and the peddler isn’t nearly as clever.  Kids may still like it, but this adult wasn’t as enchanted as he’d hoped to be.

Sifting Through the Clues by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook Nook Mysteries #8) – 4
Spring has sprung in Crystal Cove, and the town is celebrating all things book club.  Clubs from neighboring towns have come to advertise their clubs and Jenna Hart is letting the Cookbook Nook be used to host some of the book discussions happening during the week.  But she’s most excited about the progressive dinner that her own book club, the Mystery Mavens, is planning for Saturday night.  However, the night ends in tragedy when they arrive at their last stop and find their final hostess, Ivy Beale, dead on her kitchen floor.  Ivy had a reputation of knowing everyone’s secrets, and Jenna had seen her clashing with several people in town recently.  Was that what got her killed?

One thing I love about the series is the different themes that author Daryl Wood Gerber works in via the town’s events, and book clubs is one that will appeal to all readers.  The mystery is strong, with some unusual elements that Jenna must figure out in order to solve the case.  I felt the suspects are good and kept me guessing as I went along.  The climax was a lot of fun and perfectly wrapped things up.  There is a large cast of characters, and I love spending time with them.  However, at times it can be hard to remember all the connections, so I was thankful for the list of characters at the beginning of the book.  My biggest issue is the relationship between Jenna and Cinnamon Pritchett, the chief of police.  They are supposed to be good friends, but I don’t see it based on their interactions here.  I get why Cinnamon behaves the way she does, but we need to see more of the friendship between them.  We got over a dozen recipes at the end, some sweet and some savory, and many of them give us regular and gluten free versions.  Fans of Daryl’s other series will enjoy the Easter eggs she slipped into this book; I know I did.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

With a Kiss I Die by J. A. Hennrikus (Theater Cop Mysteries #2) – 5
Edwina “Sully” Sullivan is using the slow winter months for the Cliffside Theater to work on grant proposals to help them build their own theater building.  Meanwhile, Dimitri, the theater’s resident director, is working on a struggling adaptation of Romeo and Juliet down in Boston.  When Sully gets a chance to go down and help for a few days, she figures this is a great time to schmooze with the people who will be awarding the grant.  However, a murder after what was supposed to be a celebratory party turns Sully’s focus to other things.  When people who knows start vanishing, can she figure out what is really going on?

I had forgotten just how much I loved these characters until I picked up this second in the series.  The main characters are strong, and their relationships feel real.  They also have multiple connections to the characters who are part of the mystery, which gives us multiple reasons to care.  The book starts out focusing on the disaster of the play, but it is layering in information related to the mystery, so when the murder does happen, we are off and running quickly.  I got so pulled into this book that I finished it in two days instead of my average three.  In fact, I had to know what was going on, so I ignored other plans to finish it.  The climax is very satisfying.  I appreciated how Sully used her background as a cop to investigate and worked with the police to figure things out, a nice change from other cozies I read.  I’m already hoping we get to visit with Sully and the rest of the gang again soon.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Sentry by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole & Joe Pike #14) – 4
It all started because Joe Pike stopped to put air in his tires.  While he is at the service station, he notices two suspicious men about to enter a sandwich stop across the street.  Pike follows them and stops them from beating up the owner, Wilson Smith.  When Pike is waiting to talk to the police, he meets Wilson’s niece, Dru Rayne.  Both of them are refuges from New Oreleans, feeling after Hurricane Katrina five years before the story starts.  When trouble comes for the duo again, Dru calls Pike, who brings his friend and partner Elvis Cole in to help.  Elvis begins to uncover clues that things aren’t quite what they appear to be.  What has the innocent act of stopping at a service station and doing a good deed gotten the duo into?

Thanks to the multiple view point narration, we have an idea what else might be happening before Pike and Cole do, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested.  There is so much going on that what we are privy to is only a small part of the story.  There are plenty of twists as this thriller works its way to the climax.  Along the way we get new insight into both Joe Pike and Elvis Cole.  We do see a few of the recurring characters, but they don’t get enough page time for any real development.  The new characters are engaging enough to help keep us invested in the story.  Even though we get some passages from Cole’s point of view, his humor is missing here, and I would have enjoyed it.  Even by this series’ standards, this book is violent.  While these books always have more language and violence than my normal cozy mysteries, I felt what we got here could have been tone down without impacting the story in the slightest.

Lights! Camera! Puzzles! By Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady #20) – 3
Cora Felton, famed Puzzle Lady, is having her worst nightmare come true when a tell all book from her least favorite ex-husband becomes a bestseller and gets turned into a movie.  She agrees to become an associate producer on the film in hopes of control some of the damage even if it means she has to spend time with her least favorite ex-husband on a daily basis.  Before things can even get started, however, tragedy visits the set when a production assistant is killed.  The police aren’t sure what to make of it, but Cora isn’t that concerned since it has nothing to do with her.  However, as things continue to go wrong on the film, she begins to take a more active interest.  Can she figure out who is behind everything happening?

As a longtime fan of the series, I was looking forward to Cora’s latest adventure only to find myself disappointed.  The star of the series has always been the witty dialogue between Cora and the rest of the characters.  I did laugh some, but I found most of it lacking the spark of the better books in the series.  The plot is really a series of events, although Cora does get a clue at the end that helps her put things together.  We spend most of the book in New York City on various locations, which leaves the series regulars on the sideline, and the new characters aren’t strong enough to carry the book.  We do get a new crossword and Sudoku to solve as we read.  This is one of those books where it is easy to pick on the shortcomings, but I was entertained as I breezed through the book.  Still, this is one only for fans who need Cora’s latest adventure.  Those new to the series won’t enjoy the book.

Barking Mad at Murder by Jacqueline Vick (Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic Mysteries #1) – 4
Frankie Chandler makes her living as a pet psychic in a small town in Arizona.  There’s just one problem – she’s a fake.  She really uses cues from her knowledge of human and animal behavior and fakes her visions to help pet owners with their pets’ behavior.  So, you can imagine how surprised Frankie is when a dog named Sandy actually gets through and gives her a vision of a murder.  She’s willing to write off the entire thing as a bad dream until a body matching the victim in the vision turns up in the desert.  Can Frankie figure out what really happened?  Does Sandy know more than Frankie got in the first vision?

This is definitely a step away from my normal cozy choices, but I picked it up after chatting with the author for most of the day at an event.  I’m glad I took a chance on it.  With Frankie just developing her powers, this book had some fun exploring that and what it meant for her.  The mystery was good.  There were occasional pacing issues, but for the most part it kept me engaged until the wonderful climax.  A solid sub-plot helped keep me interested as well.  A couple of the supporting characters have room to grow as the series develops, but for the most part the cast is solid, and I certainly hope to see more of many of them in later books.  The book kept me grinning as I read as Frankie gets into some pretty fun situations over the course of the story.  This is a solid series debut anyone looking for a light, fun read will enjoy.

Staging is Murder by Grace Topping (Laura Bishop Mysteries #1) – 4
Laura Bishop is just getting her home staging business off the ground, and she is thrilled to land Victoria Denton as her first client.  Victoria can make her reputation in their small Pennsylvania town.  Unfortunately, Victoria also has a reputation for being hard to work with, and Laura is finding that all too true.  Working late one night, Laura is shocked to find Victoria’s dead body.  When the police arrest Laura’s assistant, she decides she needs to look into the crime to find out what really happened.  But can she do it?

Since this is the first in a new series, we get to meet quite a few new characters here.  I enjoyed Laura and her friends, although they do have a little room to grow as the series progresses.  The plot starts off strong, but bogs down a bit as Laura struggles to figure out how to start her investigation.  Not that I can say much since I identify with her struggle.  Once she gets moving, thanks in part to some blunt questions from her friends (again, too much like me), the story picks up and I was fully on board.  The climax was creative and answered all our questions.  Laura is a mystery fan herself, and I enjoyed her comparing herself to the main characters in the books she’s read.  Each chapter starts with tips on staging your home, and they made me very thankful that I am not planning on selling my condo any time soon due to all the work involved.  I’ll just enjoy reading about Laura’s efforts to stage houses and solve mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

4 comments:

  1. Really great, and all decent reads too! Happy May!

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  2. I'm glad you overcame your hesitation and read A Dream of Death. Your comments are appreciated, Mark.

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  3. Thank you, Mark. And good tips about things I can address in the next book.

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  4. Looks like most of your reads in April were really good, Mark! That's awesome :) Here's to May being a strong reading month, too.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

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