Thursday, May 30, 2019

May 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Here we are at the end of May.  Must be time for this month's monthly reading summary.  As usual, the links take you to the full review.  And no, the index didn't get updated this month.  I even had a long weekend, and I still didn't do it.

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

The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan (Jazz Ramsey #1) – 5
Jazz Ramsey is working on training Luther, a cadaver dog, in a construction site in her native Cleveland.  She has already planted something for him to find, but Luther indicates a find in a completely different room.  Sure enough, he’s found a body.  Even worse, it is the body of a former student at the all-girls school where Jazz works.  Jazz’s former boyfriend Nick has been assigned the case, and Jazz knows it is in good hands.  But she still can’t help but wonder what it was that lead the girl to her death.  As she begins poking around, she begins to uncover secrets.  Can she find out what got the young woman killed?

I’ve enjoyed several other books by Kylie Logan in the past, so I am not surprised I enjoyed this one.  But I am surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.  This is a little more serious than some of her other books, but that is no reason not to pick up the book.  The characters are compelling; even those we don’t spend much time with come across as real.  Jazz herself is fully formed and a wonderful main character.  The plot is strong with a steady helping of twists and clues to guide us to the logical conclusion.  The writing makes Cleveland come alive without distracting from the characters or the plot in any way.  This is a solid debut that already has me anxious for more.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Dying for Devil’s Food by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #11) – 5
Mel Cooper is less than excited about her high school reunion because of all the bad memories she has from those years, yet she gets talked into going by her best friend, Angie, mainly because of the gig Angie gets them providing cupcakes for the event.  Once there, Mel finds herself beginning to make peace with her past, that is until she finds the dead body of Cassidy in the bathroom.  Cassidy was the worst bully in school, and just a couple hours with her has proved that things haven’t changed.  With her classmates looking at her as the killer, Mel knows she has to clear her name.  Can she do it?

Fortunately, most high school reunions aren’t nearly as bad as this one is.  But all the horrible people from Mel’s past make for wonderful suspects as she attempts to figure out what really happened to Cassidy.  What impressed me was that this book allowed for some growth in Mel and it showed us deeper suspects than I was expecting from the first few chapters.  This allowed the plot to move along at a quick pace with plenty of twists to keep me engaged.  Trust me, I didn’t want to put this book down until I reached the great climax.  There is a dose of humor mixed in that kept me smiling and laughing as I read.  Cupcake fans will be pleased with the three new cupcake recipes included at the back of the book.  It’s hard to read just one book in this series, and I’m already hungry for my next visit with Mel, Angie, and the rest of the gang.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

A Deadly Feast by Lucy Burdette (Key West Food Critic Mysteries #9) – 3
Hayley Snow’s wedding is just a few days away, and her list of things to do is long, as you’d expect.  She’s got family coming in from out of town, Thanksgiving the day before, and contractors to get working on the houseboat she wants to move into soon after she gets married.  So the last thing she needs to do is find herself embroiled in a mystery.  But when a woman on a seafood tour Hayley is covering for work drops dead, Hayley is asked by the friend who owns the company to find out what happened.  Can Hayley squeeze that into her busy week?

As you can see, there is plenty happening here, and I found the pages turning quickly.  Unfortunately, I felt the mystery suffered as a result.  It was often buried in everything else going on, and the resolution was rushed as a result.  But I do love these characters, and getting to spend time with them is wonderful as always.  I enjoyed getting to see a different side of a couple and have others return.  Thanks to these books, I’ve fallen in love with Key West, so it was fantastic to get to visit again.  It was a much-needed mini vacation.  There are nine new recipes for us to try; personally, I’m most intrigued by the pumpkin pie recipe.  While newcomers to the series won’t be as charmed with this outing, longtime fans will be happy to visit Hayley again here.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Spy School British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #7) – 5
Ben Ripley and his team of fellow spies think they have been handed the key to finally taking down the evil organization SPYDER.  As it so happens, the key is a literal key.  Ben’s friends piece together that it most likely belongs to a storage space under the British Museum.  Since no one knows who in the CIA is really a SPYDER double agent, only Ben and his friends from Spy School can be trusted to go and retrieve whatever the item might be.  And so Ben, Mike, Zoe, Erica, and Erica’s parents make their way to London.  What will they find when they land?

This book picks up moments after the previous book in the series ended, so it does discuss some of what happened in that book.  As a result, if you want to go into that book completely surprised, you’ll want to read the books in order.  But that’s no problem since the entire series is so fun.  Once again, we get a wild ride filled with twists, turns, and extremely narrow escapes.  Yet in the quieter moments, we get to see some depth and growth in the characters, which I loved.  The action can be a bit over the top, but that plays into the comedy of the book and series perfectly.  I might not have laughed quite as much as I did while reading the previous book, but I was chuckling before I finished the first page, and I did grin and laugh the entire way through.  Middle Graders will love this book, and anyone looking for a fun read will be glad they picked it up as well.

Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer (Davis Way #1) – 3
Former police officer Davis Way has finally landed a new job.  She’s working as undercover security at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The first thing she’s asked to do is figure out how someone is rigging the Double Whammy machines to win the jackpot.  She’s just started the investigation when she makes a startling discovery – the person getting the jackpots is her ex-ex-husband, a man she doesn’t want back in her life.  Can she figure out how he is rigging the machines without crossing his path?

I’ve had this series and this book on my radar for a while.  While I don’t gamble, the casino setting intrigued, and I know this series is very popular.  Unfortunately, this is one of those books that entertains while you are reading, but when you set it down, you begin to see the flaws.  There is a good plot here, but it gets distracted several times with sub-plots that slow things down.  I did like how Davis’s complicated past is given to us in flashbacks spread out over the entire novel; it helps give some of her actions more context.  Unfortunately, I felt she made some very stupid decisions over the course of the novel, especially in the final third.  There’s a complication in that final third that stretched my ability to suspend disbelief as well.  It’s a shame because I liked the characters and can see them growing even more over the course of a series.  This book describes itself as a comic caper, and I’ve found that some just don’t work for me, and I think that’s the case here.  I know the series has many fans, but this debut didn’t work for me as well as I wanted it to.

NOTE: I bought the original release of this novel a couple years ago, but I read the edited special edition thanks to the author.

Murder in Little Italy by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #8) – 5
Midwife Sarah Brant is called to the Ruocco family for a birth in their home over their Italian restaurant.  Antonio’s new Irish wife is in labor, but she is two months early.  However, when the baby arrives, Sarah begins to suspect that the baby is actually full term and Nainsi lied about when she got pregnant.  When Sarah returns for her follow up visit the next day, she finds that Nainsi died in the night – although she quickly realizes that Nainsi didn’t die from complications from child birth and sends for Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  Since Frank is Irish, his presence draws suspicion from the family.  As the racial tensions in the city over this incident begin to rise, Frank must find a way to solve the case.  Can he do it with Sarah’s help?

This is another engrossing trip back in time.  These books suck me into another time and place.  The mystery here is strong and takes up much of the book, only allowing for brief updates on ongoing stories.  However, the case is more than enough to keep us turning pages.  Frank and Sarah continue to be strong leads.  Frank is a little more dominant in this book, but Sarah still makes significant contributions to solving the case.  There are twists, red herrings, and a strong group of suspects.  I really could have believed anyone was guilty until Frank and Sarah figured things out at the end.  As always, this book was over all too quickly.  You can bet I’ll be back in time with these characters soon.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #10) – 5
The Poet is back, and he is calling out FBI agent Rachel Walling.  She has been summoned from a field office in South Dakota to a burial scene in Las Vegas to help the FBI track down this serial killer once and for all.  Meanwhile, retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch has been asked to investigate the death of a friend by his widow.  Everyone thought this death was natural causes, but Bosch begins to agree that there was something suspicious about his death.  Where will the investigation lead?

While The Poet wasn’t originally part of the Harry Bosch series, this is a direct sequel to that Michael Connelly book.  If you haven’t read it, you’ll definitely want to since it spoils twists in that book, and the story here will mean more to you as well.  It is obvious to us that these two investigations are going to come together, and Connelly does a great job of keeping us entertained as he lays that ground work.  We get plenty of twists as we go along, and the book kept me engrossed until we reached the very end.  We get some follow up on the twist in Bosch’s personal life from the end of the previous book, and I enjoyed seeing his character grow as a result.  The rest of the cast is just as strong, which is no surprise.  We get the story from Bosch’s first-person point of view as well as the third-person point of view of other characters; these switches are never confusing and really enhance the story.  Obviously, this is a darker book than my normal cozies, but I knew that going in and that didn’t bother me.  This is another masterpiece from a wonderful writer.

The 18th Abduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #18) – 4
Three teachers have gone missing in San Francisco, and all eyes are on San Francisco police officer Lindsay Boxer as she is leading the hunt for them.  Unfortunately, there are few leads.  Can she find anything before it is too late?  Meanwhile, her new husband, Joe Molinari, has found a woman near the FBI’s San Francisco office.  This woman, Anna, claims to have just seen a known war criminal from her native Serbia in the city.  Is she right?  What is he doing there?  Can Joe make sure this man receives the justice he deserves?

Outside the prologue and epilogue, this book takes place five years in the past, meaning that some of the recent stupidity in Joe and Lindsay’s marriage has been forgotten.  I couldn’t be happier about that.  The story is another fast-paced mystery against overwhelming odds that keep the pages turning.  It even gave me something I’ve been wanting for a long time in this series (no spoilers, don’t worry).  Unfortunately, most of the Women in the Women’s Murder Club are reduced to cameos as the plot drives forward.  The characters continue to be fairly thin, but that’s no surprise to fans.  We get into Anna’s past and the war crimes that took place in Serbia, so expect the heavier subject matter when you pick up this book.  Overall, fans of the series should be happy with this latest offering.

Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #1) – 4
Martha Rose and her friends Lucy and Birdie was considering expanding their Tuesday quilting group, but when they show up to Claire Terry’s house that Tuesday morning, they find Claire’s dead body.  Then, one of her quilts is stolen from an expo that weekend, and Martha really begins to wonder what is happening.  Is the quilt theft related to Claire’s death?

I don’t tend to pick up as many crafting cozies as I do other sub-genres, but I’m glad I made an exception for this book.  The pacing was a little uneven early on, but the book is setting up a great second half, and that half completely had me hooked as the twists began to come quickly, leading to a great climax.  The book does venture into some darker waters for a cozy, but I felt it handled them well.  The characters, both series regulars and suspects, are all strong, and I really began to like the main trio by the end.  I did find the very occasional political sniping in the first half a little off putting.  I suspect it was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it that way.  Hopefully, this is dropped as the series progresses.  Unlike many cozies, this one is set in the suburban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.  This is just south of where I live, so I enjoyed seeing places I recognize in the book, and I still felt this had the cozy charm despite the larger setting.  It is easy to see why this series has done well, and I hope to find time for the sequel at some point soon.

Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #49) – 4
When Jessica Fletcher’s friend Mimi Van Dorn collapses, Jessica is naturally concerned, but when Mimi passes away later that night, Dr. Seth Hazlitt thinks she had help.  Naturally, Jessica starts investigating, and she quickly finds evidence that Mimi was indeed murdered.  Does the new clinic outside town hold the answers to Mimi’s death?  Or is a secret from her past responsible for her murder?  Jessica will have to figure it out fast since another old friend has checked into the new clinic and could be in mortal danger himself.

Yes, we are once again in Cabot Cove and environs for much of the book, although Jessica finds herself traveling quite a bit as she tries to piece together this puzzle.  Things start off a bit slowly, but they gain speed as the book progresses, and by the end I was completely hooked.  Part of the early slowness are attempts to develop Jessica with her thoughts about life, but they come across as forced and don’t add much to the book.  Still, I was turning pages quickly at the end to see just how Jessica would bring everything together.  I was happy to find that the foul language that has bothered me in the last two books wasn’t present here, which is much more like the franchise of old.  I was also happy to find that Jessica’s relationships with Seth and Sheriff Mort Metzger were much closer to how I remember them from the TV series.  George Sutherland, a recurring character in the books, is present here and I enjoyed getting to meet him for the first time.  Fans of the franchise will be very happy with this book.  I know I was.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich (Fox and O’Hare #6) – 2
Unlikely duo FBI agent Kate O’Hare and former (maybe) conman Nick Fox have been asked to look for a tech billionaire known to pretty much everyone as The Big Kahuna.  He disappeared a few days ago, but Kate and Nick are shocked to find that both his wife and his business partner are already hoping to have him declared dead.  Kate and Nick aren’t willing to declare him dead yet; they think he might be hiding out in Hawaii.  With Kate’s father and Cosmo, another FBI agent, tagging along, they set out to see if they can find him.  However, it appears someone wants The Big Kahuna dead.  Can they find him in time?  Or will they lead the killers right to him?

The last book in this series was three years and a different co-author ago, and it shows.  Nick and Kate are shadows of themselves, with Kate going to Nick for plans on everything instead of them working as partners.  Their romantic relationship has gone back several books, too, and yet they don’t appear to be hiding the fact that they work together professionally.  Kate’s dad is just a caricature now, and the new characters are one note jokes, per se, which makes spending so much time with them painful.  While the plot does include a couple of small cons, it is nowhere near as elaborate and therefore fun as the previous books.  Really, any group of characters could have been the stars of this plot.  The pacing is uneven, especially early on when we get travelogues of Hawaii.  We could have easily cut 30 pages without noticing at all, and in a book that already reads short, that is saying something.  I did get hooked as I went along, but I think the flaws would have been more frustrating if I hadn’t been able to knock the book out in a couple of days.  I borrowed this book from my local library, but I’m not sure even that price (free) will be enough to get me to come back if Nick and Kate have any more adventures.

3 comments:

  1. Another great month for you. Happy June!

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  2. Thanks for the heads up on The Big Kahuna. I'd put off buying this title because the co-author changeover worried me (I've been a longtime reader of the previous co-author and feared the change wouldn't be seamless). Thanks also (so much) for mentioning Spy School British Invasion! This author has been on my radar for a while, but I haven't had a chance to pick up the books. Putting them on my list now for this summer! Excellent reviews on all the titles, as always :)

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  3. Great month of reading and so many are on my TBR except for a few that I got to this month. I really need to read the Victoria Thompson series from the beginning. I've read the last few and loved them.

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