Thursday, January 2, 2020

December 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

It's that time again, time for a monthly reading summary.  This is the last one of 2019, if you can believe it.

And no, I didn't get the index updated.  Too much going on with the holidays.  And this is the second month in a row, too.

As always, the links take you to the full reviews.

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

Raiders of the Lost Bark by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mystery #8) – 4
Over the last few months, Mel has been the victim of Addison Rae.  Addison is trying to become the premier gourmet pet chef in Laguna Beach, and she is using old letters from Mel’s mother to get Mel to make introductions.  Addison’s latest gig is as the chef at a camping trip for dog owners and their pets, and Mel intends to get the letters over the course of the trip.  However, before she can, Addison turns up dead.  Mel knows she makes a great suspect, but can she find the really killer before her mother’s secret, and her motive, is exposed?

The books in this series are always fun, and this book is no exception.  The mystery starts well and moves quickly as we get more suspects and motives to sort through before Mel finally figures things out.  The dogs’ antics are always entertaining.  The people can tend to be more caricature than full character here, but it works for the series and provides us with some laughs.  Mel is real and helps ground things.  Mel’s assistant Betty is also along for the ride in this book.  She’s a hoot, but we get a bit too much of her here, and I grew tired of some of her antics at times.  The brooch that Mel is feuding over with her cousin Caro continues to make things challenging here, and I’m anxious to find out what happens next in that saga.  Readers who have pets will be interested in the two recipes at the end of the book.  Pack your bags because this is a glamping trip not to miss.

A Parfait Murder by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A La Mode #3) – 5
The country fair is in fully swing, and Tully Jones is hopping between her ice cream store and the booth she’s set up at the fair.  Things get even more complicated when her cousin Bree’s ex-husband Sonny walks back into town after fifteen years.  Bree is considering going after him for years of back child support, but before that can happen, he slaps her with a paternity suit, trying to claim that Alice isn’t really his daughter.  The next day, Sonny’s lawyer is shot inside the haunted rodeo attraction at the fair, and the only other person in the ride is Bree.  Tally can’t believe her cousin would do something like this, and Bree flat out denies it.  But who else could it have been?

This is a great third book in the series.  I loved the twist on the locked room puzzle presented here.  There are several good suspects and clues that kept me reading as Tully worked to match the right suspect with the ability to pull off the crime.  I also love the characters.  Tully and her family are strong, and their relationships go through quite a bit here.  I appreciate the growth it showed us for them.  Naturally, the suspects are just as strong.  I also appreciated that the characters understood why the police were focusing on Bree.  They disagreed, but they worked to change their minds.  Naturally, as an ice cream lover, I also enjoyed the ice cream descriptions.  The book left me smiling and yearning for ice cream.

Crime Travel edited by Barb Goffman – 5
This short story collection features 15 stories from various authors that combine time travel and crime fiction.  The stories are very creative, involving a variety of methods of time travel from people who build machines to those who stumble upon strange ways to get back in time.  The periods range from people traveling to the present, to those traveling to Shakespeare’s England, a New Jersey beach town in the 1970’s, and a couple trips to the 1960’s to name a few.  Meanwhile, we get a couple capers, a locked room mystery, and a hard-boiled PI among other great stories.

This is a very strong collection of stories.  While a couple weren’t quite to my taste, I can see how others would love them and it was a very minor point.  I laughed at a few of the stories, another couple made me cry, in a good way.  Most importantly, I had fun.  There are so many great stories in this collection, you’ll be glad you picked it up.  And if you don’t get it now, you just might have to come back in time and yell at yourself for putting it off and depriving yourself of the joys of reading these stories right away.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this collection.

The Queen of Christmas by Shari Randall (Lobster Shack Mystery #3.5) – 5
Dagmar Smith is known for her Christmas tree displays, including a new themed tree each year.  This year, she’s asked Allie, a dancer, to help with the unveiling of the tree since the theme is The Nutcracker.  Allie, Aunt Gully, and Verity are on hand to help, but when something goes wrong, they find themselves with a mystery on their hands.  Can Allie figure out what happened?

This is a short story taking place after the most recent Lobster Shack novel.  There’s a strong mystery with a decent twist along the way to the climax.  If you aren’t familiar with the series, now’s a great time to jump in since the emphasis is on this story with little backstory.  The characters are developed for a short story – there isn’t time to develop them further.  Since this takes place at a Christmas party, you’ll find plenty of holiday spirit with something Christmas related even providing a clue.  I breezed through it in about 45 minutes, so if you are looking for a festive, fun story to read this month, this is the story for you.

NOTE: I received a copy of this story.

On Borrowed Time by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #5) – 5
Lindsey Norris is getting ready for the weekly Crafternoon meeting, but she finds a surprise guest hiding out in their usual meeting room – her brother Jack.  She wasn’t expecting to see him for a few more weeks when her entire family arrived for Christmas.  He begs her to keep his presence a secret and promises to explain everything after a nap.  Lindsey returns after the meeting, but instead of her brother, she finds a dead body on the floor.  Who is the dead man?  Where is her brother?  And how much danger is he in?

I originally picked up this book thinking I’d get a Christmas themed cozy.  It was quickly obvious that wasn’t going to be the case, but that is hardly a complaint at all.  The story was so strong I didn’t want anything slowing it down.  It kept my attention the entire time, from the fast-paced opening until it reached the action-packed climax.  The love triangle is still going strongly here, although it seems obvious to me which way Lindsey is leaning.  It doesn’t take over from the main mystery, and it provides some fun humor along the way.  One of the guys gets some nice character development.  All the regulars are here and very strong.  The new characters don’t get a whole lot of page time, but they do come alive with what little page time they do have.  This is a great book that will please fans of the series.

The Lost World by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park #2) – 2
This book picks up a few years after the original Jurassic Park disaster.  It turns out that that the rumors of Ian Malcom’s death were greatly exaggerated, and he has recovered thanks to Sarah Harding.  While none of the survivors of the Jurassic Park disaster have talked about what happened, there are rumors.  And those rumors aren’t helped by the reappearance of weird creatures on the Costa Rica coast.  In fact, wealthy scientist Richard Levine has come up with the theory that there is another island with dinosaurs on it, and he is obsessed with finding it.  And it isn’t long before he, Ian, Sarah, and others are heading to the second island to study the dinosaurs, learn more about how they lived, and hopefully learn why they became extinct.  Will the scientists be able to prove their theories?  Or will some stowaways and other uninvited guests ruin their plans?

I listened to an abridgment of this book over 20 years ago, and I remember thinking this was a decent if unnecessary sequel.  I decided it was time for a relisten and this time, a listen of the full book.  Turns out, I enjoyed the abridgment better.  There is too much time spent rediscovering that the dinosaurs are out there again and trying to locate them.  Then, once we arrive, we get lectures, mostly from Malcom and Levine, about how dinosaurs lived and theories about why they became extinct.  While there are some suspenseful scenes early on, it’s not until the final quarter that we get the scenes the movie has made famous.  And those scenes?  Nail bitters even if you know what is going to happen.  The ending is much better than the movie’s ending as well, not that this is a high bar.  Diehard fans will enjoy this one, but the casual fan has no reason to pick this book up.

The Wolves of Christmas by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #8) – 4
Phoenix Homicide Cops Joe, Tom, and Gretchen’s boss, Jerry, has announced that his retirement has been put on hold since someone has stolen his retirement investment.  The fraud division of the police department is going to look into it, but Joe and Tom have just been given a case that may tie in.  A dead body was found in Salt River Canyon, but since the victim lived in Phoenix, the case has been transferred to these two.  The connection?  He worked for the investment firm where Jerry had his money.  Could the two tie together?

The book starts out well, but it gets a bit unfocused as it goes along with too many sub-plots.  This is especially true when we learn that Tom’s cousin, and Joe’s infatuation, has been brutally raped and left for dead.  The two fly over to Ireland to be by her side and help solve the crime, but we also get updates on what is happening in Phoenix thanks to scenes with Gretchen.  I did enjoy the main mystery, and I found myself caught up in it, but I wish the book had been a little more focused.  This is definitely more serious than the cozies I normally read, but we don’t get too many needless details.  Since this is book eight in the series, I really do love the characters, and it was great to spend Christmas with them.  In fact, the book stretches from mid-December into the New Year, so we get some nice holiday scenes.  The early books in the series were written in the mid-90’s, and the author has kept that time period for the books, as this one makes very clear.  All told, I was left smiling when I finished the book.

Owl Be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #26) – 4
It’s a few days before Christmas and Meg Langslow and much of her family are at the Caerphilly Inn for Owl Fest 2019, a conference being put on by Meg’s grandfather.  Unfortunately, the worst winter storm in decades has also decided to visit, trapping the attendees in the hotel and possibly keeping them from going home for Christmas.  As the snow continues to fall, tempers continue to rise.  Owls are not without their controversy, but Dr. Frogmore seems to be at the center of much of the arguments breaking out.  No one much likes him, but for some, the problems with him go much deeper.  However, when Dr. Frogmore drops dead, Meg’s father suspects that it wasn’t natural causes.  Are they trapped at the inn with a killer?  Can Meg figure out what is really happening before the snow ends so the conference attendees fly home?

This novel uses a classic mystery trope – everyone trapped someplace with a killer.  I’m a little disappointed since it’s been used twice in a row in the series now, and the result was me beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic while I was reading.  The mystery itself was solid.  It’s obvious early on who the victim will be, and we learn about motives and suspects even before he drops dead.  The further complications after the murder takes place kept me guessing until the end.  As much as I enjoy spending time with Meg’s family, they aren’t as funny as they used to be.  The new characters do provide some laughs, but there are some serious issues in the book that dampen some of the humor.  All told, this is still a fun entry to the series that will please Meg’s many fans.

Sealed Off by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #8) – 5
The clambake that Julia Snowden and her family run on their family’s island is just running on weekends through Columbus Day.  Unfortunately, tension among the staff seems to be reaching the boiling point.  Romances among the staff have been causing issues all season, but Julia was hoping they could make it until the end of the season, and those issues would resolve themselves before the clambake starts up again in the spring.  A fist fight as the guests and crew were leaving one days brings things to a head, and leaves Julia in the unfortunate position of firing her boyfriend’s brother.  However, a dead body on the island the next morning only makes the situation worse.

There is a strong sub-plot, almost a second full mystery, in this book involving a room that has been sealed off since the 1890’s in the family mansion on the island.  Between the two stories, this book moves forward at a constant pace, and the pages flew by.  I never wanted to put the book down until I reached the satisfying end.  Once again, I was left in awe of how the clues were woven into the story.  Several series arcs were advanced here, and the chances for character development were put to full use.  The new characters are just as strong as the series regulars, which is no surprise to anyone who has read the series.  Those looking for recipes will be pleased with the five we get at the end of the story.  There is not one wasted word in this story, and I set it down completely satisfied.  Well, almost satisfied.  As is always the case, I was left wanting to visit Julia and her family and friends again as soon as possible.  Fans of the series will be delighted with this book.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you need to fix that as soon as possible.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Sell Low, Sweet Harriet by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #8) – 5
In the middle of a cold January, Fitch Air Force Base is rocked by the murder of one of the servicemen’s wives.  Sarah Winston knew the victim slightly since they both volunteered at the base’s thrift shop.  When Sarah is asked to help the police by listening, and only listening, and sharing what she learns, she agrees.  But can she keep it to just listening?  Meanwhile, since January is slow for Sarah’s garage sale business, she is thrilled when someone contacts her about holding an estate sale.  The woman’s parents were retired CIA and had traveled the globe, so the house is filled with all sorts of treasures.  But Sarah soon concludes someone is after something hidden in the house.  Can she figure out what it is?

While the garage sale is really a sub-plot, it is a strong sub-plot and we spend almost as much time there as we do with the murder.  I did feel the plot got a bit distracted early on, but it didn’t last for long, and that might have been me more than the book.  Even then, I was pulled into the story, and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  The ending made perfect sense when Sarah figured it all out.  Sarah has surrounded herself with a great group of friends and neighbors, and I was thrilled to spend time with each of them again.  The new characters are strong as well.  There are several sub-plots that allow the supporting characters chances to shine.  We even get a couple of funny moments that just might make you laugh at loud.  Each book in this series is a delight, and this is another adventure sure to please Sarah’s fans.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Legacy by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8) – 5
This book opens nine days after the previous book ends.  Sophie is finally able to talk to Mr. Forkle, one of the leaders of the Black Swan.  However, he is most interested in discussing the most likely target for the Neverseen’s next attack instead of answering Sophie’s questions.  His theory makes sense, but can Sophie and her friends figure out a way to stop them?  Meanwhile, the Council has a surprising and game changing offer for Sophie.  Will she take it?

Naturally, that just scratches the surface of this book since it is almost 800 pages.  But it is worth it to watch the plots and sub-plots unfold.  Sophie is on quite a journey, and this is another large step forward since we get some twists and revelations in this book.  Obviously, I don’t recommend starting here.  There’s been a lot of world building in the previous seven books, and that’s always important in a fantasy series.  Plus, because the books build on each other, there are major spoilers for events in the earlier books. The characters and their relationships continue to grow, and I loved watching that.  Plus there’s plenty of humor and alicorn cuteness.  The target middle grade audience will love it, as will anyone who enjoys fantasy.  The pages flew by as I got lost in the story.  Just be ready for that cliffhanger.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome month for reading. Too bad the one wasn't as great as the others. Wishing you the best for 2020!!