Monday, September 30, 2019

September 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Another month rolls to a close.  Can you believe we are three quarters of the way through the year?  I sure can't.  But that's where we are, so it must be time for another monthly reading summary.  And we are going three in a row with updating the index as well.

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

The Zombie Ball by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #6) – 4
Magician Eli Marks has been hired at the last minute to perform as the opening act at the Zombie Ball, an annual local fundraiser, when the originally scheduled magician backs out.  He hasn’t been going out much since his divorce, but he needs the money, so he agrees to do the gig that night.  Of course, Eli quickly sees tensions going on behind the scenes, including two competing top donors who everyone is handling with kid gloves and trying to keep away from each other.  Then someone is murdered, and Eli finds himself involved with the case.  Will he figure out what really happened?

While this is the sixth book in the series, it is mostly set in the past, with events taking place before book 1.  While I missed seeing some of the series regulars and getting some updates on ongoing storylines, I was quickly caught up in the story, and I enjoyed seeing a different side of the few regulars we did see.  The body isn’t found until later in the book than normal, but I was enjoying spending time with Eli and getting to know the suspects.  Sure enough, things that happened and we learned came into play once the murder has been discovered, and I was impressed with how Eli pieced everything together.  The story hinges on the suspects being strong, and fortunately, they are.  This story is shorter than many of the books I read, but it was long enough to tell the story, and it was nice to breeze through a book quickly.  While we don’t learn any of the secrets of magic, I still enjoy the behind the scenes glimpses we do get of the life of a magician.  Whether a new or returning fan, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Terns of Endearment by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #25) – 4
Meg Langslow’s grandfather has taken a job on a cruise ship for one voyage presenting nightly lectures on animals and the environment.  Primetime, the cruise line, has offered a discount, so Meg and several other family members have joined this cruise to Bermuda.  However, things don’t go as planned.  The first morning as sea, the passengers wake up to find that the ship is dead in the water.  Then, as the captain is briefing the passengers on the situation, another crew member bursts into the meeting to say that one of the passengers has gone overboard.  It appears to be suicide, and the captain is willing to write it off as such, but Meg’s dad isn’t so sure.  While the passengers wait for the ship to be fixed, he goads Meg into doing a little investigating.  What will she uncover?

Yes, the usual assortment of Meg’s relatives join her for this cruise, and they are up to their usual antics.  I don’t find these books as funny as they used to be, but I still find them highly amusing, and I completely enjoyed my time with the characters as usual.  The ship is filled with new characters, and I loved how they were developed as the story went along.  The action was a little slow getting going, but once the ship got stuck, things really picked up and I was hooked.  I finished the book from that point on in about 24 hours, and that included time to sleep and work.  The ending is a bit rushed, but everything is explained before we turn the final page.  Fans will be delighted to find the series is still going strong twenty-five books in, and I enjoyed a reference to something from the early books in the series.  This is another relaxing mystery, although you might not want to take it on your next cruise.

Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron (Cajun Country Mysteries #5) – 5
Maggie Crozat’s grand-mere has come up with the idea of Pelican, Louisiana, holding a musical festival in the days leading up to New Orleans’s famous Jazz Fest. Tammy Barker, a native who has gained fame as the winner of the TV singing competition, has agreed to return to headline the event.  This isn’t good news for Maggie’s friend, Gaynell, however.  Gaynell and Tammy went to high school together, and Tammy seems to have it out for her, even sabotaging Gaynell’s shot at auditioning for Jazz Fest.  So when a murder takes place after Tammy’s set opening night of the festival, all eyes are on Gaynell.  Can Maggie clear her friend?

This is the fifth book in the series, and it was wonderful to get to visit our friends in Pelican again.  Maggie leads a strong cast.  While there are quite a few regulars plus the suspects, I didn’t have any trouble keeping the characters straight while I was reading.  However, there is a handy character guide in the front of the book if you do need it.  The plot is strong with a couple of equally as strong sub-plots to keep the pages turning.  I especially enjoyed a sub-plot involving Grand-mere.  The twists and turns lead us to a logical climax.  My only complaint is how Maggie works with the police, but it was a minor issue overall.  We get five recipes and some fun background on things we learn in the story at the end of the book.  I always feel like I’ve visited Louisiana when I read one of these books, and this one is no expectation.  Fans old and new will be glad they picked it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell (Quaker Midwife Mysteries #5) – 4
Midwife Rose Carroll is surprised to step into the Amesbury, Mass., post office one June afternoon and find Mayme Settle complaining loudly about postmistress Bertie Winslow.  The problem isn’t poor service but Bertie’s untraditional lifestyle, specifically that she lives with another woman.  Mrs. Settle doesn’t feel this is proper, and is making her feelings known.  While Rose is upset for her friend, Bertie is more than willing to let the slight go.  However, one morning Mrs. Settle is found dead in her bed, and the police are quick to rule it murder.  Unfortunately, they are just as quick to focus on Bertie as their prime suspect.  Can Rose help the police find the truth?

The mystery is good with several viable suspects; however, I felt the pacing was off.  It was a bit too slow in the beginning and a bit rushed at the end.  While it wraps everything up, we get a lot of information thrown at us rather quickly to do so.  It is always fun to spend time with Rose, and I love her friends.  There were some interesting developments with her family in this book, which I enjoyed.  The suspects were strong, but I felt the victim was a bit of a cliché, needing more time alive to become more real to me.  My feelings on the victim also plays into my issues with the theme.  As the title suggests, we get a few passages that look at how humans judge others.  The problem was I felt these were too modern for a book set in the 1880’s.  Mind you, I haven’t done the research, so maybe I’m the one judging too harshly.  Other viewpoints were certainly not shown as anything other than wrong, and Rose comes off as almost judging others a few times herself.  The title comes from a version in Matthew 7 in the Bible, and is taken out of context, as it usually is.  These issues pulled me out of the book (and certainly bothered me) when they popped up, but the focus of the book was mostly on the mystery.  Those who have enjoyed previous books will want to pick up this book and judge it for themselves.  Most will probably be glad they did.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole & Joe Pike #18) – 4
Joe Pike’s trip to the bank for a routine deposit ends when he witnesses two men try to kidnap his teller, Isabel Roland.  Joe being Joe, he jumps into action and rescues her.  However, when the kidnappers are released from jail, they are both murdered.  Was kidnapping Isabel a crime of opportunity, or was she a target?  Is she safe?  Why would someone target her?

Those familiar with the series will notice a similar set up to a previous entry, but that’s where the similarity ends.  This book takes off in some unexpected places, and author Robert Crais uses multiple viewpoints well to hook us as events unfold.  This is a thriller that kept me glued the entire time.  While we don’t learn much new about PI partners Elvis Cole or Joe Pike, it is wonderful to spend time with them and see them in action again.  Most of the new characters are wonderful and fully developed, but a few very minor characters are very annoying.  Likewise, I don’t find John Chen, a recurring character in the series, that funny.  I’m sure the characters who annoy me are supposed to be comic relief, but I just don’t get it.  While the book certainly has more language and violence than the cozies I normally read, I didn’t feel it was excessive here.  Elvis and Joe have a huge following, and I’m sure there many fans will be thrilled with this book.  Pick it up and hang on because it is going to be a very wild ride you won’t want to put down.

Fashionably Late by Lisa Q. Mathews (Ladies Smythe and Westin #3) – 5
It all starts with a fashion show.  It’s fashion week in Milano – Milano, Florida, that is, and Summer Smythe has snagged tickets for herself and her friend Dorothy Westin to the luncheon and fashion show that are kicking things off.  However, things take a strange turn when Angelica Downs, one of the models, asks them for help before the show starts.  When they try to track her down, they find her dead body.  Angelica’s mother, Frankie, is living in the part of their senior center for those with memory issues, and Dorothy and Summer are worried that Frankie might be next.  However, when they go to talk to Frankie, that only leaves them with more questions.  Is a killer after Frankie?  Who killed Angelica?  Can Dorothy and Summer figure out what is really going on?

Having read the previous two books in this series, I knew what to expect, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The plot starts off strongly.  We don’t seem to be gathering any clues right off the bat, but there is still plenty happening to keep our interest.  Naturally, much of that comes back into play as the book leads us to the logical conclusion.  The climax was a tad rushed, but it was also fun and answered all of our questions.  The characters range from fairly realistic, like Dorothy, to less so, like Summer, to outright wacky.  The mix works for this book.  We care enough to want to see justice done, but we also are having fun laughing and smiling as things go along.  The book is set in December, but the holidays only color events a little.  Instead, this is more about the fashion shows and the events happening in connection with them.  If you are looking for a delightful book, this is definitely one to pick up.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

A Killer Carol by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #7) – 5
Christmas is approaching in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, and Claire Weatherly has her hands full.  Not only does she have the normal tourists coming into her shop, Heavenly Treasures, but she is organizing the first annual One Heavenly Night event designed as a chance for residence and tourists to enjoy the town at Christmas.  However, murder rears its ugly head once again one night.  Annie, the Amish teen who works for Claire, is out Christmas caroling with some friends, and when they stop at the Esch’s farm, they find both of the them dead.  Detective Jakob Fisher is quick to realize it was murder.  Unfortunately, the last people to visit the victims were Claire’s Amish friend Ruth and her new husband Samuel.  Even worse, the couple appear to have a motive for committing the crime.  Claire doesn’t believe they could have done it, but Jakob has to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it ruins the unofficial inroads he has made in building relationships with the people who used to be his family before he left the Amish community.  Can Claire help him solve the case before that happens?

This series works best when the characters are driving a strong mystery, and that’s definitely the case here.  I’ve felt like I knew the series regulars from their first appearances in the series, so it was fantastic to spend time with them again.  They are still just as strong as ever, and the new character are just as compelling.  Since Heavenly sits on the edge of an Amish community, life is a bit slower, and that is reflected in the plot.  This isn’t a twist a page type of book, but that faster pace wouldn’t feel right.  Don’t get me wrong, we do have twists and surprises, but the impact on the characters is just as important, and the two combined keep me glued to the book.  I had to fight to keep from peaking ahead and making sure everyone was going to be okay.  Honestly, just reading about Heavenly refreshes my soul, so picking up this book was great.  The Christmas setting was an added bonus since I love that season so much.  There are a couple of niggles with the book, but they are minor.  This is a fantastic addition to a favorite series.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Have Yourself a Beary Little Murder by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #3) – 4
This December is proving to be especially busy for Sasha Silverman.  Not only are there the usual activities in town, but the Silver Bear Shop and Factory has won a prize with their design for a Beary Potter bear, and they are rushing to meet demand in time for Christmas.  So, the last thing that Sasha needs is to get involved in a murder, but that’s just what happens.  The highlight of the annual Christmas parade is Santa Bear, and once again this year, the town’s mayor, Cal Bloom, is playing the part.  However, with the parade start time drawing near, no one can find him.  Sasha and her mother start searching only to find him dead on a bench in his costume.  It appears his death wasn’t natural, so what happened to him?  How did he get to the park bench?

The book wastes little time in killing off Mayor Bloom, and we get some good clues and suspects along the way to the logical climax.  Sasha and her immediate family are strong characters, and it was great to spend time with them again.  The suspects are also good characters.  Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are hard to keep straight, but that doesn’t impact following the plot, so it didn’t bother me too much.  Despite the cute and cuddly nature of Teddy Bears, this series has always had a bit more bite to it for a cozy, and this book is no exception.  However, the Christmas setting adds a festival feel to the book, and I really enjoyed that addition.  Heck, I wanted to join the company employee Christmas party – it sounded delightful.  And I was drooling over some of the goodies they were eating.  If you are ready to get in the Christmas spirit a little early, this is the book for you.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Christmas Cocoa Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day, and Alex Erickson – 5
Kensington has released another Christmas novella collection, this time featuring three authors that haven’t been featured before.  All three stories feature hot cocoa is some capacity.  Up first is “Christmas Cocoa Murder” by Carlene O’Connor, which takes place in an Irish village leading up to Christmas.  Her series main character, Siobhan O’Sullivan, is just a couple of weeks away from joining the police force, but she gets pulled in early when the village’s Santa’s stunt at the annual panto goes horribly wrong and he’s found floating in a dunk tank filled with hot cocoa.  Next, we get “Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse” by Maddie Day.  Robbie Jordan, the star of the Country Store Mysteries, is looking forward to a quiet Christmas, but first she must figure out what happened to Jed Greenburg who was found dead while out walking a dog and drinking some of Robbie’s special hot chocolate mix.  Finally, comes “Death by Hot Cocoa” by Alex Erickson.  Krissy Hancock, his main character, has been talked into doing a Christmas themed escape room, but when she and the rest of the participants finish the first part, they find themselves locked in a second room with the body of their host next to a puddle of hot chocolate.

All three of these stories are fun.  The only series I read regularly is Maddie Day’s, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying all of them.  The plots are all wonderfully constructed and perfect for the shorter novella format.  I did feel a little lost with some of the series regular characters in the first story, but that’s to be expected since I haven’t read the series before.  However, it didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment at all.  The main characters all come to life in the stories, and the suspects are just as vivid.  Each story is filled with Christmas detail that will put you in the holiday spirit no matter what time of year you read them.  A couple of the stories even feature some recipes, including two different versions of hot chocolate.  So, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate (or maybe not given the theme of this book) and snuggle up and enjoy.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mysteries #6) – 5
When Dr. Georgia Thackery’s dog, Byron, gets out one afternoon, and when she and her daughter Madison find him again, he is clutching a bone.  Naturally, the two assume it is part of Sid, and they race home to apologize to their friend.  However, all of Sid’s bones are present and accounted for, so they get the police involved.  It turns out that Byron has found part of a normal skeleton (you know, not walking and talking), and the police are able to determine that the skeleton was murdered.  The police have no leads on who the skeleton might have been in life, but Georgia’s friend and fellow adjunct, Charles, approaches her.  He thinks he might know the victim, but the only way to give the police that information might lead the police directly to Charles.  And so Georgia jumps into action again, with Sid doing his best to research the case on the internet.  Was the victim Charles’s friend?  If so, who killed her?

If you are new to the series, you might be a bit lost.  You see, Sid is a walking, talking skeleton and Georgia’s best friend.  That’s the only paranormal element to the series, and it is done is a realistic manner, which makes it feel very natural.  The characters, including Sid, are very strong, which certainly helps make it all seem real.  The plot, while not a traditional cozy mystery plot, is very strong with plenty of twists and surprises along the way to the climax.  In fact, I liked the fact that it was something different plot wise, and it certainly kept me engaged the entire time.  I did think that Christmas aspect could have been stronger, but that’s my only complaint and a very small one at that.  As a lover of puns, I absolutely loved the puns and other humor in the book.  If you are just now meeting Sid, you are in for a treat.  If you are already a fan, you’ll love this newest visit with him.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

2 comments:

  1. You seem to always be lucky enough to read great reads! Happy October reading!

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    Replies
    1. It helps that I pick the books I think I'll enjoy.

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