Monday, March 2, 2020

February 2020 Monthly Reading Summary

Time for my reading summary for February 2020.  I got a lot of reading in this month.  Not sure why I have gotten so much in, but I'm not complaining.  My to be read mountain range is still way too high.

The index is updated.  I find that a little surprising given how busy my job has been.

As always, the links take you to my full review.

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

Knot in My Backyard by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #2) – 5
Martha Rose’s neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California used to be peaceful and quiet until a local private school built a baseball stadium in the open space that used to boarder her street.  She and her neighbors have tried to fight it, even after it was built, but no one is willing to listen to them.  While out for a walk one morning, Martha finds the dead body of Dax Martin, the school’s baseball couch.  The police begin to quickly focus on her neighbor Ed Pappas, who had a fight with the victim recently, but Martha doesn’t believe he is guilty.  Can she prove it?

Quilting doesn’t play as big a part of this mystery as it did the first in the series, but it is still an active part of Martha’s life, as are her quilting friends.  It’s hard to complain since this book is filled with a strong mystery.  Martha strikes out early, which only adds to her drive to solve things, and makes the solution more satisfying for us when she does.  Some of Martha’s attitude and actions early on were a little frustrating for me, but it made me appreciate the character growth we saw in her later in the book.  The rest of the cast are great, and I enjoyed spending time with them, returning characters and new characters alike.  When I read the first book in the series, I found some needless political comments off putting, but they were absent in this book.  The plot does bring up a few political issues as a natural part of the plot, but they are kept in the background here – the book never stops to peach and they only come up very briefly.  As a Los Angeles resident, I enjoyed seeing places I know pop up in this book, especially a few key scenes that took place near where I played ultimate Frisbee for years.  Overall, this is a fun second mystery that will please cozy mystery readers.

A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns (Will Rees #1) – 4
It’s 1795, and Will Rees has spent the last few years as a traveling weaver while grieving his wife.  He’s left his son and his Maine farm in the care of his sister and her husband, but his most recent trip home leads to the discovery that they’ve been abusing that trust, and his son, David, has run away to a Shaker community over a day’s travel away.   Will goes to try to repair their relationship only to find himself involved in a murder.  One of the Shaker women has been killed in their community, and the Elders have asked Will to find the killer.  His problem, however, is that he is an outsider.  Will anyone trust him enough to share the information he needs to solve the case?

I’m always on the lookout for a good historical mystery, so I was quite eager to pick this one up.  I’m not familiar with the Shakers, so that was also an interesting aspect of the book.  The plot is good with plenty of twists and a logical conclusion, however, I felt like the pacing could have been better.  That might have just been me since Will could only talk to a couple of people at a time if he had to travel far to talk to them.  This is a historical mystery, after all.  That travel time may have helped lead me to feel like things were slow.  The characters are strong.  I really came to care for Will and several of the others.  The characters were just as strong, and I had no trouble keeping them apart.  However, as Will begins to find complex family relationships, I had a hard time keeping all of those straight.  The everyday details of life in the time period were strong and helped make me feel like I was back in time when I was reading the book.  I am definitely planning to visit Will again to find out what happens to him next.

Microphones and Murder by Erin Huss (Podcasting Sisters Mysteries #1) – 5
Liv Olsen has spent a few years working on a popular true crime podcast, but now she’s decided to risk everything to start her own, Missing or Murdered.  Working with her stepsister, Camry Lewis, she’s identified her first case.  Just over ten years ago, Amelia Clark disappeared from Santa Maria, a town on central California’s coast, a week after an embarrassing video of her was posted on YouTube.  The trail has long gone cold, but the retired detective who worked the case reached out to Liv, hoping that publicity would bring forward a new clue.  As Liv begins to interview people who knew Amelia, she gets more questions than answers.  What happen to Amelia all those years ago?

It’s always fun when a mystery opens with something other than a murder, and that’s what we get here.  The missing person case was compelling, and it seemed the further I read, the more confusing the case became.  However, everything came together for a satisfying solution before it was all over.  The characters are charming, and I fell in love with them immediately.  I appreciated the character growth we saw here, and I can’t wait to see how these relationships grow in future books.  The suspects are just as real and do a great job of confusing us.  I did find out character who speaks with a stutter annoying, and there were a couple of scenes I could have done without, but these are both minor issues.  On the other hand, I appreciated the book’s humor and found myself laughing several times.  This is a delightful debut, and I will definitely be back when the sequel drops.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #1) – 4
Army ranger Van Shaw hasn’t been home in ten years, and he has no plans to return until he gets a letter from his estranged grandfather, the man who raised him, asking him to return.  Van arrives to find his grandfather on the floor bleeding from a very recent gunshot wound.  Van knows he is the best person to find out what happened to his grandfather.  The man made his living as a thief, something he was training Van in until Van turned his back on that life and joined the army.  But Van still knows the old man’s friends, and they might tell him things they wouldn’t tell the police.  Can he use his contacts to find out what happened?

This book is definitely darker than my typical cozies, but I knew that when I picked it up.  While I didn’t find the violence or sex excessive, I did feel the foul language could have been toned down some.  The plot was a little slow to hook me, and some flashbacks to Van’s childhood didn’t really help that feeling.  However, I did get hooked and was along for the twists, turns, and action sequences we got.  I was on the edge of my seat by the time I reached the end.  The characters are all solid, which helps.  I don’t normally like rooting for criminals, but since Van is reformed, it is easy to root for him.  The rest are very real and I enjoyed getting to know them.  I’m glad I gave this debut a chance, and I definitely plan to move on to the next in the series.

Battered by G. P. Gottlieb (Whipped and Sipped #1) – 4
Alene Baron runs Whipped and Sipped with her best friend, Ruthie Rosin.  Together, the two have turned the café and coffee shop into a healthy choice with a loyal clientele.  They serve only the best coffee, and most of their items are vegan, even the sweet treats, that is popular in their neighborhood in Chicago.  Alene lives a few blocks away from the café in a condo she shares with her father and her three children.  Her world is a little chaotic, but it gets more so when she finds one of her neighbors dead one afternoon.  It is clear that he was murdered, and soon Alene is casting everyone in the role of killer.  Since she knows everyone who might be a suspect, can she figure out what really happened?

This book has a couple of twists on culinary cozies that I enjoyed, the healthy food that is served and the large city setting.  Author G. P. Gottlieb still manages to keep this book feeling cozy despite that setting, and I enjoyed spending time in a bigger city.  There are a lot of characters, and their relationships are complicated.  There is a list of characters before the book starts, but it didn’t take too long for the character’s personalities to come through and it became easy to keep them straight.  There are some prickly characters in the book, and it was actually easy to root for one of them to be the killer.  We get a bit of a backstory dump early on, which makes it a little slow to get going.  We do need some of this information as the plot unfolds.  Once the murder happens, we’ve got several good clues and red herrings.  I thought I figured things out early, but I was surprised by the climax.  There are a total of thiry recipes in this book, with them leaning toward the healthier side of things thanks to the vegan theme of the café.  This book features a slightly different take on the culinary cozy mystery, one I ultimately enjoyed.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Al Dente’s Inferno by Stephanie Cole (Tuscan Cooking School #1) – 4
Nell Valenti has turned her love of food and her training as a chef into a career helping establish farm to table cooking schools.  When she is offered a job setting up a school for Chef Claudio Orlandini in Tuscany, she jumps at the chance.  Not only is she looking for some changes in her life, but Chef Claudio is her culinary idol.  However, Nell is shocked upon her arrival to discover that the villa Chef Claudio owns is in worse disrepair than she expected, meaning the transformation is going to be more work than she’d expected.  Then comes the news that a kick off dinner with some local dignitaries is scheduled for the next evening.  Even worse, the dinner ends with some of the guests dead and Chef Claudio missing.  What has Nell gotten herself into?

I picked up this book with high hopes.  It’s fun to see a cozy in a new setting, and Tuscany appealed to me.  Unfortunately, the language barrier made the book hard to get into initially.  Yes, we need bits of Italian, and not all of the characters are going to speak English, but it felt like too many Italian words and phrases were thrown out, and we had to wait for the translation to appear or figure out what was meant in context.  While it took a bit longer to be hooked than I would have liked, it did happen once the plot kicked into high gear.  We are treated to a great mystery with plenty of suspects.  As Nell pieces things together, I was in awe of just how well the clues were laid out for us.  Nell is a good main character, and the core cast also comes to life for us as well.  There are some laugh out loud funny scenes here, and, of course, we get a delicious sounding recipe at the end.  The characters, plot, and setting make this a fun debut.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Here Comes the Body by Marie DiRico (Catering Hall Mysteries #1) – 5
Mia Carina has returned home after her adulterous husband’s mysterious disappearance to work in the family business.  Or, I should say, the family’s new business.  Her father, reputed mobster Ravello, has recently acquired the Belle View catering hall in the Queens borough of New York City, and Mia is going to help him run it as a 100% real business.  Her first week on the job, Mia is in charge of a bachelor party when disaster strikes.  Not only does the stripper not jump out of the cake, she’s dead in the cake.  With the police showing interest in the new business and especially her father, Mia begins poking around, hoping to figure out what happened.  Can she do it?

The mob?  New York City?  Yes, this is indeed still a cozy.  While those are the elements that help make up this different take on the genre, they only help provide the background.  The heart of the book is still a great puzzle and charming characters.  Mia already knows some of the supporting players in the book, and we can tell right away how much they love each other.  The rest of the characters are entertaining, and the suspects are strong.  The plot weaves in some interesting directions before we reach the logical and satisfying conclusion.  We get some great humor as Mia deals with a return home that isn’t as smooth as she thought it would be.  Being a culinary cozy, we get some delicious sounding recipes at the end and a fun party idea.  I took advantage of a lazy Sunday afternoon to finish this book, and I enjoyed every page of it.  I’m already anxious for the sequel.  It would be a mistake to refuse this excellent debut.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Crypt Suzette by Maya Corrigan (Five Ingredient Mysteries #6) – 5
Val Deniston’s granddad has taken on another boarder, a young woman named Suzette Cripps.  Suzette spends most of her time in her room, but she is planning to participate in the literary themed costume contest to celebrate the town’s new bookstore.  The morning after the contest, Suzette is dead, killed by a hit and run driver.  The police are investigating, but they think it was an accident.  Val can’t help but think it was more than that.  Is she right?

The mystery starts out quickly, and it is easy for us to share Val’s suspicion that this wasn’t an accident.  There are plenty of suspects, and I felt like it took a little while for me to keep them all straight.  This is a minor complaint, however, as they did get developed as the book went along.  I’m in awe at how the clues were sprinkled into the book, and as Val used them to piece things together at the end, I felt foolish for not picking up on them myself.  The book is set at Halloween, and the fall atmosphere is a lot of fun.  We get a creepy Halloween inspired scene near the end as well.  Val’s granddad is a hoot, and I really enjoyed his sub-plot involving ghost hunting.  There are five more five-ingredient recipes at the end of the book.  While it would be fun to read this book at Halloween, it works well at any season of the year.  I enjoyed it in February, after all.

Murder Makes Scents by Christin Brecher (Nantucket Candle Maker Mysteries #2) – 4
Stella Wright is taking a break from the Wick & Flame, her candle shop on Nantucket, to attend a perfume conference in Paris with her mother, Millie, who is one of the speakers.  The conference ends abruptly, however, when Stella and Millie are part of a crowd that witnesses a man being stabbed right in front of them.  After being questioned by the police, they return home to the island, assuming their only connection to the crime is behind them.  Stella quickly begins to think that trouble has followed them home.  Is she correct?  What might their connection to the murder be?

When I first heard this book was going to start in Paris and move the action to Nantucket, I was worried the author wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  From the pacing standpoint, I didn’t have any issues with this book since the story picked up quickly.  The book uses a MacGuffin to ignite the plot, and that’s where my issue was.  I just couldn’t buy into it.  Having said that, I still found the story compelling since the stakes were personal for Stella.  I flew through the book in a couple of days because I had to know what was going on.  The climax is a bit over the top, but it fits the plot well.  Due to the nature of the story, we don’t see as much of the supporting cast from the original, but the new characters more than make up for it.  They are perfect at being suspicious without being obviously the villain.  Unfortunately, there are also a few timelines issues in the story, but nothing that affects the plot, just stuff that annoys me.  We get some tips for making candle molds and a delicious sounding cranberry pie recipe at the end of the book.  Even with my issues, I was glad I read this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Death with a Dark Red Rose by Julia Buckley (Writer’s Apprentice #5) – 5
Life is going well for Lena London.  Her latest collaboration with bestselling novelist Camilla Graham is doing well, she and her fiance, Sam West, are just starting to plan their wedding, and she enjoys spending time with her new friends in Blue Lake.  The only shadow is the new factory that is being built just outside of town.  It looks like the building is going to be an eye sore, and Lena is not happy about it and other ways it might change this area she considers home.  However, a cold wind blows in when someone vanishes.  Soon, Lena and her friends are caught up in another race to figure out what is happening before things turn deadly.  Will they solve things in time?

I thought this novel’s beginning was weak, but it was the weakest part of the story.  Even then, that is a minor complaint since I was hooked from the very first page and could hardly put the book down until I reached the end.  If real life didn’t interfere, I could have easily finished it in one sitting.  I did see one or two twists coming, but there were plenty others I didn’t suspect, but they made perfect sense by the time we reached the end of the story.  I love Lena and her friends, and we got plenty of time with them in these pages.  Their relationships are fantastic.  Each chapter starts with a quote from the projects that Lena and Camilla are currently working on, and I found they helped me better understand just how this series works Gothic elements into each book.  Honestly, I’d love to read their books if they were real.  It is best to read this series in order since some events of previous books are spoiled by necessity.  That’s not an issue since all the books in this series are great.  Set aside plenty of time when you pick up this book because you won’t want to put it down until you’ve read every thrilling page.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

3 comments:

  1. Lots of great reads in February! Here's to a great March!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looks like February was a great reading month! I've got several of these coming up on my TBR and am starting Death with a Dark Red Rose soon. I'm really looking forward to starting Microphones and Murder. It sounds great!

    ReplyDelete