Monday, December 2, 2019

November 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Yep, that time again.  Here's my monthly reading summary for November.

With the holiday, I didn't quite get to updating the index.  Next month might be the same thing, but we will worry about it then.

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

Who is The Mystery Reader? by Mo Willems – 4
This book is broken up into many parts.  The main story involves Zoom Squirrel who gets some help in reading for The Mystery Reader, a costumed superhero.  But who is the masked man, er squirrel?  And can Zoom enter the world of masked superheroes?  After the main story, we get a couple of terrible (and by that, I mean delightful) puns and jokes related to reading.  There’s also a section where we see the work that goes into creating a book.

As an adult, I don’t find these picture books as delightful as some of Mo’s other works.  They are missing the humor and charm.  However, I can see the appeal to young readers, and if the addition of superheroes to reading encourages kids to read, I’m all in favor of it.  The multiple sections can make the book disjointed, especially if you are reading the book to a group of kids, but it would be great for kids ready to expand their reading beyond the traditional easy readers.

The Chocolate Shark Shenanigans by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #17) – 5
Much to Lee Woodyard’s dismay, her husband, Joe, and her uncle, Hogan, have bought the house next to Lee and Joe.  They intended to flip it, but Lee is nervous about it.  It doesn’t help when she and a plumber find a gun while checking the pipes in the basement.  When Lee and Hogan go back to take a second look at the basement, they find a dead body.  Can Lee figure out what is going on?

It has been a couple of years since we last got to visit Lee and the rest of the gang, and I was thrilled to be able to spend a little more time with them.  As usual, the friends in Lee’s life are given cameos, but Lee, Joe, and the other couple of main characters more than make up for this.  Not to mention, the new characters that help compel us into the story.  Speaking of which, I was hooked from the beginning and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.  The story is filled with twists and turns.  The ending is a bit rushed, but it does tie everything major up.  The book is on the shorter side, but by eliminating sub-plots, it still presents a full mystery that will leave you hungry for more.  Speaking of which, the descriptions of chocolate made my mouth water, and the chocolate trivia sprinkled along the way is fun as always.  We even get a recipe at the end of the book.  Fans old and new will be glad they picked up this book.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

City of Scoundrels by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Ladies #3) – 5
It’s the fall of 1918, and the draft age for World War I has been increased, upsetting Elizabeth Miles since her fiance, Gideon Bates, has been drafted.  Gideon is focusing his last few weeks as a civilian on drafting wills for soldiers.  Most of them are, but one of the exceptions is Tom Preston, part owner of Preston Shoes, which has made a fortune providing shoes to the soldiers.  Tom wants a new will leaving his share of the family business to his new wife and their unborn child – a wife the rest of his family knows nothing about.  When word comes back that Tom has died, this new will goes missing, and his family doesn’t want to acknowledge his widow.  Elizabeth is quick to jump in, getting her family, all conmen, to come up with a scheme to get this war widow the money she should have inherited.  But what complications might there be along the way?

Yes, there are complications.  We wouldn’t have much of a novel without them.  It would have been nice if they are started a little sooner, but that’s a minor complaint.  I was hooked the entire time, and it only became harder to put the book down the further I got into it.  History came alive, and I felt like I was part of what was happening in the New York City area during this time.  It helps that the characters are extremely strong.  Through them, I came to care about the plot and the history that was unfolding around us.  Yes, I felt that welcomed into the world that I was actually part of what was happening on the page.  If you aren’t taking these trips back in time, you need to do so today.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

The 19th Christmas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #19) – 3
San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Rich Conklin are using their lunch hour for a little holiday shopping, and they happen to be on hand to catch a petty criminal.  The criminal immediately wants to talk deals.  He’s heard rumors that someone named Loman is planning some kind of big heist on Christmas Day.  As the tips begin to pour in, the police are left chasing their tails as they try to figure out what Loman really plans.  Or who he even really is.  Meanwhile, reporter Cindy Thomas has landed the story of an illegal immigrant accused of a murder and gets assistant district attorney Yuki Castellano involved in her attempts to free him.  And medical examiner Claire Washburn leaves town to teach a course during Christmas week to college students down in San Diego.

As popular as Christmas books have become, this is one series I hadn’t expected to offer one since some of the storylines in other books don’t lend themselves to the season.  These storylines do, but unfortunately, the books is a mixed bag.  I didn’t buy their excuse for writing Claire out of the book, and Cindy and Yuki’s sub-plot is undercooked.  It felt like it was there more to preach than entertain.  Fortunately, the main mystery was entertaining and kept me turning pages, although it relied on the villain taunting police, a trope I have trouble buying.  Add in an epilogue that came out of nowhere and left me wondering if they are setting up the next book in the series.  On the other hand, I got plenty of Christmas spirit from the book.  As I said, this is an average entry in the series.

Murder at the Mansion by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #2) – 4
Kelly Jackson has returned to Redwood Cove, California, ready to take on her new job as manager of one of the B&B’s in town.  While it finishes up some renovations, she is helping out at a sister property, Redwood Heights.  Redwood Heights has been having issue with jewelry being stolen from guest’s rooms, but things escalate when Kelly finds one of the guests murdered in that guest’s room.  With the aid of the local senior citizen community watch, the Silver Sentinels, Kelly starts digging around.  Can she figure out what happened?

Having grown up visiting the redwoods, I love this setting.  I would love to visit in real life, between murders, of course.  This book starts off strongly and never lets up, always giving us some complication or clue until Kelly pieces everything together.  I didn’t have any problem remembering the characters, which is good since there are quite a few of them, but I do feel the cast could be a little better developed.  I’m hoping that will come as the series continues.  I also stumbled over a few editing errors.  They were minor overall, fortunately.  While there aren’t any recipes, there is more than enough talk about food to make your mouth water as you read the book.  Overall, this is a good second in the series, and I hope to visit Kelly again soon.

The Last Dragon by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #2) – 5
It’s been six months since the attack that took Fort’s father from him, but the recent hope that his father might be alive has given Fort a goal.  Rescuing him is all Fort thinks about, and now he has a plan to steal the magic book he needs.  But complications come from unexpected places, including a new roommate he is expected to spend all his time helping.  Then there are the nightmares where the Old One promises Fort his father back in exchange for the last dragon.  Can Fort find the last dragon?  Should he make the trade?  Or will his original plan work?

For me, it had been six months since I read the first book in this series, so it was nice to see how this book eased us back into Fort’s world without slowing down the action.  I was soon caught back up in his story.  I do find the tone a little darker than author James Riley’s previous books and I miss the lighter tones those books had.  Still, that’s a minor complaint as I raced through this book to find out what happened next.  I enjoyed seeing Fort grow and his relationship with his friends change.  In fact, I found those relationships something that helped ground the book since they dealt with some stuff realistically.  I will definitely be back for more.  How can I not come back after the ending of this book?

Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #5) – 5
The house across the street from Rory is being torn down, so she is trying to drown out the sound of construction vehicles with Christmas carols when the sound suddenly stops.  The crew has found bones buried under a building in the backyard.  It isn’t long before the police have been able to identify the bones, but their identity puts Rory’s father in the role of suspect.  Rory tries to help out with a variety of holiday events planned in the community, including finishing up her own ornaments to sell at the craft fair despite what is happening in town, but when a new body turns up, the stakes are raised.  Can she figure out what happened in the past and how that is impacting the present?

Mysteries that involve the past can be great when there is a compelling reason for the characters to care about it today.  That’s definitely the case here.  Rory has a couple of reasons to make sure this case is wrapped up in time for Christmas, and she gets plenty of clues and red herrings to keep her guessing.  The pace is fast, and the climax answers all our questions.  The series’ tone is a bit darker overall, and that’s the case here again as well, but we do have some Christmas fun to help lighten the mood.  I really enjoyed the fact that this book is set in Southern California, so, while we get plenty of holiday spirit, we do it without snow.  I could relate.  The main characters continue to grow, and the new characters are just as strong.  With Christmas fast approaching, now is the perfect time to pick up this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

And Then There Were Crumbs by Eve Calder (Cookie House Mysteries #1) – 3
Looking for a fresh start, Kate McGuire packs up and moves from New York City to Coral Cay, Florida, where she lands a job working at The Cookie House.  On her first day on the job, Stewart Lord stalks into the bakery.  He is a real estate developer who has decided to buy up Coral Cay and turn the entire island into a resort for the rich and famous, and he has The Cookie House in his sites as his first purchase.  He makes the owner, Sam, a rock bottom offer, but only leaves with some cinnamon rolls he demanded from Sam.  A few hours later, Stewart is dead, and Sam’s cinnamon rolls are the culprit.  The police arrest Sam, but Kate doesn’t think her new boss is a killer.  Can she prove he didn’t poison Stewart?

Between the fact that this is a culinary cozy and it is set in the Florida Keys, I was ready to sit back and enjoy.  Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.  I was captivated at first.  The setting is very real and fun and comes to life.  Kate quickly makes a lot of fantastic friends, and I enjoyed hanging out with all of them.  The further I went into the book, the more frustrated I became with the pacing of the mystery.  We spend significantly more time watching Kate work to save and transform the bakery while Sam is in jail than we do getting clues to who might have killed Stewart.  It’s a shame because there is a good mystery here; we just needed more of it.  All the baking certainly made me hungry for bread and cookies, but there aren’t any recipes at the end of this book.  Plenty of people seem to love this book, so if the premise interests you, I recommend you pick it up and judge the results for yourself.

A Time For Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #50) – 4
When Jessica Fletcher sits down to be interviewed by a student from Cabot Cove High School, she is surprised to find the student bringing up Jessica’s first time solving a murder.  No, it wasn’t at the launch party of her first book, but it was twenty-five years ago when she, her husband Frank, and their nephew Grady were living in Appleton, Maine.  The principal where Jessica was a substitute English teacher was murdered, and Jessica helped solve the case.  Jessica usually doesn’t talk about it, and she deflects again, but when she goes to apologize to the student later, she discovers that the woman who interviewed her wasn’t a student at the high school at all.  Who interviewed her?  What is her interest in the case?

Going into this book, I was concerned that this book was going to contradict things established in the pilot episode of the TV show, but it does a good job of explaining things so that this doesn’t happen.  We do spend part of the book in the past, and all the transitions are easy to follow.  I found both mysteries, past and present, to be very compelling, and I couldn’t put the book down until I reached the climax.  Unfortunately, the climax is a bit over the top, which has happened in the books I’ve read in the series.  Likewise, I did find that Jessica, Mort, and Seth spent more time sniping at each other than I remembered from most episodes of the show.  On the other hand, Jessica has stopped swearing, which was a welcome return to normalcy for the character.  This book is the fiftieth novel based on the show, and as a result manages to work in a few Easter Eggs that fans will enjoy.  If you are a fan, you’ll enjoy this entry.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Cobblered to Death by Rosemarie Ross – 3
Courtney Archer has become known to her fans from the TV cooking show, The Farmer’s Daughter.  Just one catch – she is actually the daughter of a doctor from Chicago.  She hates keeping this secret, but is even more worried when her secret is discovered.  The man who makes the discovery is Mick, one of the contestants on The American Baking Battle, a new show that Courtney is co-hosting.  Courtney isn’t the only one having issues with Mick.  Still, Courtney doesn’t expect to find his dead body on the second day of filming.  Worse yet, Mick was hit over the head with a pan of Courtney’s cherry cobbler.  Who killed him?

This book started out well, and I was quickly hooked.  The setting is a lot of fun, and the characters are wonderful.  I was drawn to Courtney and wanted her to succeed.  I enjoyed watching her friendship with another character grow, and her producer is a strong character as well.  The plot started out strongly, setting up suspects and the victim before killing Mick off.  Unfortunately, there weren’t enough suspects to sustain it, and the twists and clues were fewer than they needed to be in favor of time spent on the set of the baking show watching everything being filmed.  I suspect the characters and setting will be strong enough to draw people to this new series, but I hope the plots get stronger as the series progresses.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

2 comments:

  1. 10 is really fab! Plus they were all decent reads! Hope December is a good reading month too!

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  2. So many good mysteries this month! I see several that I also picked up and I think we had similar feelings about them all. I was so relieved by the Murder, She Wrote book. I was afraid he would go in an un-Jessica like direction with all the flashback.

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