Monday, July 1, 2019

June 2019 Monthly Reading Summary

And we are half way through the year, if you can believe it.  Time for my June monthly reading summary.  As usual, the links take you to my full review, and the index has been updated this month.

I should point out I have more audio books than normal this month, although I have been reading quite a bit, so between the two the list is long this month.

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

Taken by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #15) – 3
Los Angeles PI Elvis Cole is hired by Nita Morales to find her daughter Krista.  Krista and her boyfriend, Jack, disappeared several days ago.  Nita has received a ransom call, but she was only asked for $500.  Surely, this is just Krista and Jack trying to get some money from Nita so they can elope, right?  However, Elvis quickly begins to determine that Krista and Jack are in serious danger; they’ve been kidnapped by a group that captures illegal immigrants trying to get into California.  But knowing what happened to them only increases the stakes.  Can Elvis and his partner, Joe Pike, find the two young adults and rescue them before it is too late?

This book is an amazing thrill ride.  The story starts off fast, and it never really lets go until we reach the end.  However, it is too much like a movie thriller, which means it has some serious weaknesses.  The characters, even series leads Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, are shallow.  This doesn’t help since there are a lot of players we have to try to keep straight.  Author Robert Crais uses shifting timelines to help increase the tension, which works as intended, but he notes the time in a way that grows confusing as the book progresses; he even spoils a major plot point early on as a result.  The book is brutal and filled with foul language.  While I expect that when reading one of Robert Crais’s books, this one seemed excessive, even by his standards.  Despite all these negatives, I still found the book extremely addicting and impossible to stop thinking about.  It’s worth reading as long as you keep your expectations appropriate going into the book.

Full Bodied Murder by Christine E. Blum (Rose Avenue Wine Club Mysteries #1) – 3
Annie “Halsey” Hall has moved from New York City to Southern California, buying a house on Rose Avenue just a couple miles south of Santa Monica.  She’s excited about her new neighborhood, except for her snooping next-door neighbor, and pleased to have been invited to join the Rose Avenue Wine Club.  On her way to her first meeting, Halsey and her puppy, Bardot, stumble into the wrong house and find a dead body in the backyard.  Even though Halsey has never met the victim, the police consider her their prime suspect.  With the help of her new friends, Halsey begins to investigate.  But with everything happening in the neighborhood, will they be able to figure out what really happened in time to clear Halsey?

Even though I don’t drink wine, I decided to give this book a try after meeting the author.  I wanted to like it since it is set in Southern California, and I got a kick out of seeing the characters going to places I’m familiar with.  However, I found the book was just a bit too unfocused to really work well.  I thought there were timeline issues early on until I began to realize that the book takes place over several months.  This wasn’t obvious early on, so maybe it helped explain some of the timeline issues I thought I saw.  While Halsey is developed as a main character, many of the rest are still fairly flat.  They can certainly develop as the series progresses, so I’m not too concerned about that yet.  The book has a couple of interesting sub-plots, but they take over at times, and too much happens in them over the course of the book.  It would have been better to stretch them out over the course of several books.  The mystery plot has a lot going on, but it worked to keep me guessing until the very end.  However, one key piece of evidence made me shake my head.  It would have made more sense if the book took place over a week instead of many months.  There is quite a bit of foul language for a cozy, even compared to some of the cozies and traditional books I read that are pushing the boundaries.  Overall, this reads more like an early draft that needed some polish to find the gem inside, because there is certainly a gem here.  Since I already have the second book, I might find some time to read it to see if the issues resolve themselves as the series progresses.

A Baker Street Wedding by Michael Robertson (Baker Street Mysteries #6) – 4
Barrister Reggie Heath and actress Laura Rankin have finally tied the knot.  When the paparazzi crash their wedding, they make a hasty exit and change their honeymoon destination.  Laura find them the one rental in a quiet village on a remote part of the British coast.  Only after they land does Reggie find out about Laura’s past in the village, but he doesn’t realize she has another reason for visiting now.  Something is going on in what appears to be a quiet village.  Will they figure things out before it is too late?

Those familiar with this series know about the fun premise, the letters that people send to Sherlock Holmes get Reggie involved in mysteries.  That’s true here again, although how that comes together I will leave for you to discover.  I did feel the beginning was a little slow.  Yes, it was set up, but it still could have moved faster.  I was certainly enjoying it, but about half way through it kicked into high gear and then I was really hooked.  Only a few characters return from earlier books in the series, one of whom I wasn’t excited to see again, but the new characters definitely help pick up the slack and made me care about the outcome.  Fans of the series will be happy with this latest entry.

Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons – 4
This is a collection of 36 short stories originally available at the Malice Domestic conference in 2019.  As the title suggests, each story revolves around food in some way.  Whether it’s a poisoned tea party or death by airline food, you’ll find plenty of murder and mayhem here.  Some of the authors use this to tell a story with their series sleuths.  That’s the case with Parnell Hall, who opens the collection with his puzzle lady, Cora Felton.  Some authors take you back in time, like Victoria Thompson.  Others weave a great tale with characters created for their story here, like Nancy Cole Silverman.

As if often the case with short story collections, a few weren’t to my taste, particularly those stories where the villain managed to get out of the hot water he or she should have been in.  Most, however, are purely delectable, with a fun twist or two along the way to the climax and characters that draw you in.  Whether the author included their series characters or not, each story can be read on its own.  There might be a wink and a nod that series fans will get, but nothing that will distract you as you sample that author’s world.  There aren’t any recipes, but with a book that is almost 400 pages long, it’s hard to imagine how large it would have been if they had included some.

Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas (Movie Palace Mysteries #1) – 5
When Nora Paige’s movie star husband is caught having an affair with a co-star, she decides it is time to start over.  Fortunately, Nora’s friend Robbie needs someone to manage the Palace Theater up in San Francisco.  However, Nora’s first day doesn’t go as planned.  She’s barely met the staff when she finds a dead body in the backup ice maker in the basement.  Naturally, she doesn’t recognize the victim, but none of the staff know who he is either.  Could his murder be tied to the death of the previous manager?  And, if that shock weren’t enough, Nora starts to see a hallucination that just might be the ghost of an usherette named Trixie from the 1930’s.  Is Nora going crazy?  Can she figure out what is going on?

Since I rarely do paranormal cozies, I almost skipped this book, but I was so drawn to the classic movies theme that I had to give it a try.  I’m very glad I did because it was fun.  While we find the body early on, the set up, including introducing Trixie to the mix, does slow thing down at the beginning, but there is a strong mystery for Nora to solve.  Nora, Trixie, and the rest of the cast are a hoot, and I can’t wait to hang out with all of them again.  And there is plenty of talk about old movies.  While I haven’t seen many of the movies mentioned yet, the discussion certainly made me want to fix that.  I’m already buying my ticket for the next entry in this series.

Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins (Speakeasy Mysteries #1) – 3
Gina Ricci is thrilled when she lands a job at The Third Door, one of many speakeasies in 1929 Chicago.  Her friend, Lulu, already works there, and she has promised the tips are good.  Since Gina needs to support herself and her sick father, the promised money is very welcome, and the glitch, glamour, and possibility of meeting some celebrities captivates Gina.  As Gina settles into her new job, she starts to hear that her predecessor was murdered, but no one seems willing to talk about it.  Besides, it happened away from The Third Door, so surely the murder was unrelated to the job Gina has now, right?  Gina has just convinced herself of that when she witnesses a murder.  Is she safe in her new job?  Can she figure out what is really happening?

Since I love history, especially US history, I’m always looking for promising sounding new historical mysteries to add to my to be read list.  This one does a great job of bringing the era and location to life as we get plenty of discussions about life during the time, including celebrities of the day.  However, this detail took away from the mystery.  The murder I teased takes place a third of the way into the book, and that does make the plot move forward a little faster, but still, we could have used some more clues and red herrings.  The climax does explain everything, but it feels very rushed.  The characters are a little thin as well, although I did feel we got to know Gina and a couple others well.  In you are interested in the time or location, I definitely recommend you pick up the book.  Hopefully, with some things now established, the next in the series will be stronger.

The Promise by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #16, Scott and Maggie #2) – 4
Elvis Cole is hired to track down a woman, and the most promising clue takes him to a house that appears to be empty.  When Cole gets no answer, he tries to leave only to be trapped by the police swarming into the neighborhood looking for a suspect on the run.  Meanwhile, K-9 officer Scott James and his dog, Maggie, are tracking the suspect to the very house Cole was interested in.  Inside, they find a dead body and a room full of explosives.  As the two cases intertwine, can the two find a way to work together?

Knowing Scott and Maggie were going to be featured very heavily in this book was what got me reading the Cole and Pike books several years ago, so it was nice to finally get to read this one.  I’m happy to say it lived up to the promise of the premise.  The book is another great thriller with plenty of things happening to keep us interested.  Both sets of characters contribute something to the eventual outcome.  I did think there was a plot hole early on in the book, but it was resolved by the time we reach the climax.  The characters were a little thin again, although I enjoyed getting to see a bit of a different side to John Stone here.  The violence, language, and general depravity is definitely toned down from the previous book, although there is still more than in my typical cozies, which is no surprise.  Fans of author Robert Crais or either set of characters will be pleased by this book.

One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein (Sarah Blair #1) – 4
Sarah Blair is awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from her twin sister Emily who exclaims that Bill is dead and the police think Emily is responsible.  Sarah isn’t that upset that her ex-husband is dead, but she is surprised that Emily is the chief suspect.  But Emily was found with Bill, who had eaten her rhubarb crisp despite the fact that he hated rhubarb and avoid the nuts Emily used because of his allergies.  What is really going on?  Meanwhile, Sarah gets a shock when Bill’s current girlfriend, Jane, produces a will that claims Jane gets custody of RahRah, the Siamese cat that Sarah has had ever since Bill’s mother died several years ago.  Can Sarah prove she should keep RahRah while clearing Emily of murder?

While it doesn’t take much to intrigue me with a culinary cozy, I found Sarah’s status as a cook of convenience to be a great pull for this series.  For more serious culinary lovers, Emily works as a line chef and is part of a culinary festival taking place in their town, so all abilities are covered, although the two recipes at the end are definitely on the simple side.  The mystery starts strong, with us learning about Bill’s death on the first page.  I did find it harder to care about the sub-plot involving RahRah; I think it’s more because I’m not a pet person so I needed more time to warm up to him before I would care.  Still, both storylines reach great climaxes, and Sarah manages to figure out all the twists along the way.  The characters have some room to grow, but the main cast, including the suspects, are all solid, providing a good base for future growth.  Fans of culinary cozies will enjoy this tasty debut.

Book, Line, and Sinker by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #3) – 5
Treasure hunters have come to town, certain they have a map to Captain Kidd’s treasure that he buried off the coast of Briar Creek, Connecticut.  Their presence quickly divides the town, with the library that Lindsay Norris runs becoming ground zero for some of the fights.  However, when the tension leads to a dead body at the dig site, several of her friends become suspects.  Naturally, Lindsay begins looking for a clue that might point the police in a different direction.  Can she dig up the correct X to mark the killer?

I completely enjoyed this book.  The plot is a little different for a cozy mystery, but in this case that was a good thing.  Just adjust your expectations accordingly, but you will be satisfied when you turn the final page.  Lindsay’s love life gets complicated when her ex-fiance shows up, but I enjoyed seeing how that storyline played out, and I felt it allowed us to get to know Lindsay better.  The characters are as charming as always; I’m especially pleased to see that Lindsay’s relationship with the police is already changing for the better.  We get some extras, thanks to the crafternoon group, including discussion questions for The Great Gatsby, a cross stitch pattern, and two recipes.  I may be behind in this series, but I am certainly enjoying catching up.

Beaches, Bungalows, and Burglaries by Tonya Kappes (Camper and Criminals Cozy Mysteries #1) – 2
Mae West’s life has turned upside down.  Unbeknownst to her, her husband Paul was running a Ponzi scheme.  When the dust from the FBI raid settles, Mae is left with no money, no home, and no friends.  All she has is an RV and a campground in Kentucky.  She heads there, hoping to figure out what she wants to do next with her life while she sells the place.  However, when she arrives, she finds the place has been neglected and needs a lot of work.  Then Paul escapes from prison and turns up dead in the campground’s lake.  With Mae a logical prime suspect, she begins to work to clear her name.  Can she do it?

I grew up camping, and I wanted to love this series set at a campground.  Unfortunately, the flaws were just too many.  The plot was good, including a logical killer and motive.  However, there is a major plot hole in the final quarter of the book – one big enough to drive an RV through.  Then there’s the law enforcement character who is supposed to be FBI but acts more like the local sheriff.  The characters are pushing the edges of quirky, but they definitely grew on me.  There are multiple issues with the grammar, something I am usually able to ignore pretty well, but here they were pretty bad.  I think most of the flaws could have been fixed with a good, solid edit, but instead the book feels like it was rushed out.  It is a quick read, and includes three delicious recipes and some household tips at the end.  I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately, I will have to keep driving until I find a better campground cozy series.

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross (Jane Darrowfield #1) – 5
A year ago, Jane Darrowfield took an early retirement, and she’s already beginning to look for things to do.  She’s started helping her friends with problems, but she is surprised when she is approached by Paul Peavy, and manager of Walden Spring, a nearby 55-and-over community.  It seems their community has devolved into high school, and the popular clique and the biker clique are at open war with each other through a series of nasty, escalating pranks.  But before Jane’s suggestions can be put into practice, a dead body is found out on the community’s golf course.  Have the pranks escalated to murder?  Can Jane figure out what happened, or is she in over her head?

I love Barbara Ross’s books, so I was looking forward to starting this new series.  I wasn’t disappointed.  While the book does need a little time to set up these new characters, it does so without slowing down the mystery.  Things only pick up when the murder takes place, and we follow Jane on some twists and turns that lead to the climax.  We get glimpses of Jane’s past, but there is plenty more to explore in future installments; likewise, I suspect we’ll get to know the supporting players better as the series progresses.  The suspects are a diverse and complex group, growing deeper as the book progresses.  There are some funny scenes, especially at the beginning of the book.  It does grow more serious as the book progresses, but we do still get some great moments that lighten the story.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting to know Jane better as the series progresses.

NOTE 1: I received an ARC of this book.
NOTE 2: This book is originally being released as a Barnes and Nobel paperback exclusive.  It will be available in all bookstores and formats in mid-2020.

Strangled Eggs and Ham by Maddie Day (Country Store Mystery #6) – 5
Summer may be winding down in South Lick, Indiana, but tensions are on the rise thanks to the proposed resort on the edge of town.  Some residents want the jobs it would bring, but others, like Robbie’s Aunt Adele, don’t want the increased traffic and impact on the environment.  When a dead body turns up on the proposed construction site, Robbie’s restaurant, Pans ‘N Pancakes, becomes gossip central once again.  Can Robbie gather enough clues to solve this case?

The book takes a little time setting up the characters and motives before the murder takes place, but once the murder happens, things are off and running. Robbie combines what she learns while working at her restaurant with sleuthing outside of work hours to reach the logical conclusion. I appreciated how both sides of the resort issue were presented fairly because both sides did have views that needed to be heard. Part of that comes from well-rounded suspects. The series regulars are as fantastic as always; I enjoy spending time with them. If the book leaves you hungry, you’ll be happy with the five recipes at the end. Spending time with Robbie is always a pleasure and this book is no exception.

Note: I received an ARC of this book.

“N” is for Noose by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #14) – 4
P.I. Kinsey Millhone has been hired to ease the mind of a widow.  No one is questioning that Tom Newquist died of a heart attack, something brought on by his poor health habits.  However, his widow, Selma, is convinced that something was bothering her husband in the last few weeks of his life, and she needs to know what that was.  The problem is, she has no clue where Kinsey might begin to look, and none of Tom’s friends or co-workers in the Nota Lake Sheriff’s office are willing to speak ill of the man or have any clue what might have been bothering him.  So Kinsey digs into his life, hoping to find some thread she can unravel.  Was Tom hiding something?  Can Kinsey figure out what it was?

Since this is a mystery, you know that Kinsey will eventually uncover something.  The key word here in eventually.  The first part of the book is very slow, and we are over a quarter of the way in before we begin to see evidence that there is something for Kinsey to uncover.  However, the further it goes along, the more we get drawn in to another great mystery, and by the climax I was glad I had stuck with the book.  We do get a little time in Kinsey’s native Santa Teresa, and it is nice to see the series regulars however briefly.  Not that this book is lacking strong characters.  The new cast are outstanding and help pull us into the story even before the plot takes off.  While I don’t recommend this book as an introduction to the series, I think series fans will be thankful they stuck with the book until the end.

3 comments:

  1. I started the Sue Grafton series and can see why it was such a hit. You had a fantastic month for reading. Happy July!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Mark. I'm off to see if the library has some of these! They're not exactly campground mysteries, but have you tried the Joe & Dottie Loudermilk books by Gar Anthony Haywood? This couple travels in Airstream trailer, and the first book is set at the Grand Canyon. I enjoyed them greatly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, I have the first in Gar's series (or is it the second) around here somewhere. Thanks for the reminder. I really should read it.

      Delete