Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 2020's Monthly Reading Summary

Here we are at the end of March, which means I've posted my monthly reading summary.  And I even got the Index updated.

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

My Fair Latte by Vickie Fee (Café Cinema Mysteries #1) – 4
Halley Greer has just inherited an Art Deco movie palace in the touristy town of Utopia Springs, Arkansas.  She’s decided to turn it into a classic movie theater that features coffee and wine as part of the snack bar options.  After weeks or hard work restoring it, she is ready to feature My Fair Lady on opening night.  However, during intermission, one of the patrons is found dead in his seat.  The police think Halley is a good suspect even though she is new to town.  Can she clear her name?

I really enjoyed this series debut.  The characters are fantastic.  We are making friends along with Halley, and they are a varied lot.  I felt we got to know them, and I look forward to spending time with them in future books.  The plot was a little slow to get started, but once it did, I was hooked on that as well.  I thought I had a couple of things figured out, but I was still surprised by some twists.  The suspects are just as strong as the series regulars, and kept me guessing until Halley figured it out.  While I’m not much of a coffee or wine drinker, I was drooling over some of the food talked about in the book.  The book gives some hints about things to be explored in future books, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit with these characters.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Revenge is Sweet by Kaye George (Vintage Sweets Mysteries #1) – 4
Tally Holt has just opened a vintage sweets shop next to the basket shop operated by her best friend, Yolanda Bella, in the town of Fredericksburg, Texas.  Tally’s opened in time for tourist season, and she’s hoping that will give her new business a boost.  However, things get derailed when she finds a body in her kitchen.  The victim was Gene Faust, the mayor’s adopted son.  Gene didn’t have a good reputation, dating multiple women and borrowing money from all of them.  Yolanda was one of his victims, and her scissors are the murder weapon.  Can Tally and Yolanda figure out what really happened before one of them is arrested for the crime?

This book gets off to a good start, with several strong suspects before Gene even dies.  From there, we have fun watching Tally and Yolanda try to figure out who actually committed the crime.  The clues are woven into the story well, but one aspect of the plot is never fully explained.  Who killed Gene and why is solved, however.  The book is written third person from both Tally and Yolanda’s points of view.  These switches definitely help tell the story and are always easy to follow.  The characters could have been stronger at the beginning of the book, but we do get some development by the time the book is over.  This is the first in the series, and I’m sure the characters will get stronger as the series progresses.  There is a recipe at the end for one of Tally’s specialties – homemade Twinkies.  This is an entertaining debut in what could turn into a series as addicting as Tally’s sweets.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg (Eve Ronin #1) – 5
Thanks to a well-time viral video, Eve Ronin has become the youngest person promoted to the homicide department of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  Her new co-workers aren’t treating her with a lot of respect, so she knows she has to prove herself.  That chance comes when she and her partner, Duncan Pavone, are called to the scene of a crime in Calabasas.  A friend has called to report that Tanya Kenworth never showed up for work.  The house where Tanya lives is covered in blood in every room, but there are no bodies.  What could have happened to her?

Just as I expected, this book grabbed me from the first page and never let me go.  There were plenty of clues and twists to keep me engaged until I reached the suspenseful climax.  I did feel that Eve and her co-workers fell into genre clichés, but there are hints of more to them, and I hope we see that explored as the series progresses.  This book describes the aftermath of the crime and has more language than the cozies I typically read, but I expected that going in, and it never got too excessive.  There are some nice bits of humor to help lighten what is a mostly series story.  I’m already looking forward to Eve’s next story.

A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #6) – 4
One of the things that librarian Lindsey Norris does as part of her job is take requests to the residents who live in the islands off the coast of Briar Creek, Connecticut.  And that’s what she is doing this cold February day with the help of her ex-boyfriend, Sully.  Their first stop is Star Island, the home of brothers Stewart and Peter Rosen.  The brothers are recluses, and Lindsey knows to never leave the dock – Stewart will meet her there.  This particular afternoon, Stewart doesn’t come to meet her.  After waiting a few minutes, Lindsey and Sully can’t help but feel that something is wrong, so they venture up to the house to investigate.  Inside, they find one brother dead with no sign of the other.  Did one brother kill the other?  Or is something even more sinister involved?

Since this is book six in the series, we’ve gotten to know the series regulars pretty well, and it is fun to check in with them again here.  A couple of the supporting characters even get their own sub-plots, and they added some great humor to the book.  The love triangle is still going strong here, although it takes a backseat to some of the other storylines of the book.  Yes, the mystery is the more prominent story of the book.  Once again for this series, it doesn’t unfold in typical fashion, but I was no less hooked, and I had to know what Lindsey would uncover next as she worked to piece everything together.  I did feel the ending was rushed, which left a couple of things dangling, but the big questions were all answered.  We get the typical extras for this series – literature discussion questions, a craft project, recipes – as well as a bonus short story that is a lot of fun.  Fans new and old will enjoy catching up with Lindsey here.

Mermaid Mysteries by Diane Vallere – 5
This collection contains three mystery novellas that take the reader under the sea for stories starring three mermaid sisters, the daughter of the leader of their community of Sirenia.  Up first, Zoe finds a mystery after she rescues a diver at a shipwreck she loves to explore.  Next, Kyra discovers something strange happening at the vault of cultural treasures.  Finally, Ava must step into leadership earlier than expected when someone kidnaps Mother.

Each of the three novella is only 90 pages each, so they are easy reads, but they are delightful.  They are part coming of age tales, and watching the sisters grow is remarkable.  We get to see the other characters from three sets of eyes, so it is fun to see how the different sisters view those around them.  The undersea world is brought to life with a delightful attention to detail; there are many elements that made me smile, and I’d love to dive in for a visit if I could only breath underwater.  The mysteries themselves are good and compelling.  One ended a bit abruptly, but that was a minor complaint.  If you want to try something different with your mysteries, this collection is for you.

NOTE: The novellas were originally released individually as ebooks before being combined into this electronic and print collection.  Make sure you aren’t buying the same content a second time, but by all means, buy it once.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #5) – 5
As this book opens, Evan is planning to retire.  He is going to take on one last case to help someone in trouble, but then he is out.  Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for a phone call from his new client.  That phone call comes from Max Merriweather.  Max’s cousin Grant was just brutally killed, but he left Max with a mysterious envelop that should only be opened if Grant has died.  The problem is, someone else knows that Max has the envelope, and now they are after Max.  Evan uses his usual tricks to find out who is after Max, but will his final case be that simple?

Every time I open one of these books I am in awe once again at how well drawn the characters are.  Evan and the people who populate his world come vividly to life and continue to grow, which includes Max and the people he brings into this story.  But the book never forgets it is a thriller with plenty of action scenes and twists that kept me reading as quickly as I could.  Everything comes together for a satisfying climax while setting up Evan’s next adventure.  Yes, the book does include more language and violence than I typically read, but I expected that going in.  I was surprised at some of the lighter scenes involving Evan’s neighbors.  These scenes always break the tension of the story while helping us get to know Evan better, but we got some of the funniest scenes with the neighbors yet.  If you aren’t already reading Gregg Hurwitz, you need to fix that.  This book is nothing short of superb.

Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #25) – 3
Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, has been ordered to rest – it came straight from Doc himself.  But a trip to California to help a friend pack up is cut short when Hannah’s younger sister, Michelle, calls in a panic.  There’s been another murder in Lake Eden, and Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, is the prime suspect.  After a night out with friends, Lonnie took a drunk woman home only to pass out on her couch.  The next morning, he wakes up to find her dead in her bedroom with no memory of anything after he passed out.  Since Lonnie is a detective with the police department, most of them can’t investigate since they are friends with the suspect.  Naturally, Hannah immediately flies home, but can she figure out who is the killer?

If you haven’t read the last few books, be aware this one spoils some pretty major things by necessity since they had a major impact on Hannah’s life.  Those up to date on the series will be happy to learn we get an answer to the cliffhanger from the last book early on.  This book is a return to the status quo of a few entries ago.  After a slow start, the pacing gets better once Hannah returns home.  There is still plenty of talk about cooking, however, but we get clues and red herrings until we reach the climax.  The characters are all here, and I enjoyed seeing them, but there is little in the way of actual character development.  That includes the love triangle, which is back in play here.  We get another nineteen recipes, and I think I gained weight reading about them.  They certainly sound delicious.  Fans who have stuck with this series will enjoy this outing.  If you are new, don’t jump in here but go back to the beginning to see why we love these characters.

Abstract Aliases by Ritter Ames (Bodies of Art #3) – 5
As this book opens, it’s been two months since we last checked in on Laurel Beacham and Jack Hawkes.  While they have been doing their best to gather clues to stop the coming heist, things have been quiet.  Too quiet.  However, something is about to explode on New Year’s Day, and I’m not talking about the London fireworks.  While Laurel and Jack are waiting for those fireworks to start, they are shocked have an encounter with one of the men involved in the upcoming heist.  Then the next day, Laurel’s London office is broken into.  Once again one step ahead of danger and one step behind their prey, Laurel and Jack must act quickly.  Will they gain any new clues?

The teaser may seem a bit vague, but much of the fun of this book is watching the plot unfold and getting swept up in the proceedings.  The plot is fast paced with hardly any time for the characters, or us, to breath.  Still, we do get real characters, and I’m enjoying watching Laurel and Jack grow as individuals as well as in their relationship.  The rest of the characters are just as strong.  This is more of a caper type plot than a traditional cozy, and I loved it.  There is a larger story going on, and it is helpful to read this series in order as a result – especially since events of the earlier books in the series are spoiled here.  However, this book does have a satisfying story that ties into the larger story, and we get some interesting revelations.  Fans of the series will enjoy this book.

Murder at the Taffy Shop by Maddie Day (Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries #2) – 5
When Mac Almeida is visiting her parents, who live just down the street in her town of Westham on Cape Cod, she encounters Beverly Ruchart, their neighbor.  Beverly is always complaining about something, be it the local soup kitchen or Mac’s parents’ puppy.  Two mornings later, Mac finds her friend Gin crouched over Beverly’s dead body.  When the police begin to suspect that Gin had something to do with the death, the Mac and the rest of the Cozy Capers, a book group that reads nothing but cozy mysteries, jump into action to clear one of their own.  But can Mac piece together the clues everyone is finding?

I enjoyed the first in the series, so I was anxious to get back to visit Mac and her friends again.  We do get a lot of characters, but the important characters stand out, and the rest are subtly reintroduced when they appear on the page again, so it is easy to track them.  I have to give a special shout out to Mac pet, an African Gray parrot who gave me a couple good laughs.  I did have a harder time tracking all the suspects early on, and especially their connections to each other.  I suspect that might have been me being distracted by real life, and as I read, I was able to sort everything out.  The plot gives us plenty of twists to keep us engaged.  The ending was a little abrupt but logical.  I enjoy the nods to other cozy series we get here, and as a bonus, we get five recipes at the end of this book for a variety of treats.  Cozy lovers will enjoy solving a case along with a cast of characters who love cozies as much as they do.

NOTE: Like the first in the series, this book is a Barnes and Noble exclusive release for the first year.  In 2021, it will be available from all retailers in all formats.

NOTE 2: I received an ARC of this book.

Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan – 4
Mercer Hennessey is a former reporter who is getting over a deep personal loss.  Her life is altered when her former editor, Katherine, asks her to cover the Baby Boston trial.  Ashlyn Bryant is about to go on trial for the death of her daughter, Tasha Nicole.  Mercer is among those who is certain that Ashlyn is guilty, and Katherine is asking Mercer to write a book about the case and the trial.  With the way it grabbed headlines, it is certain to be a best seller.  Mercer reluctantly agrees, but Ashlyn’s constant claims of innocence begin to get to Mercer.  As Mercer delves further into the book, Ashlyn begins to get into her head.  What is true?  Is Ashlyn guilty?

I had intended to read Hank Phillippi Ryan’s stand-alone suspense novels before now, but I’m glad I picked up this first one.  The book starts out a little slowly.  Yes, we are getting needed background, but it feels like it could have been shortened a little.  However, once things really get going, I was completely hooked.  This is a strong psychological suspense story as Mercer is forced to question everything she thinks is true.  The almost claustrophobic feeling of this part of the book certainly helps with that.  To pull this off, the characters have to be strong, and they absolutely are, making me question what I thought was going on the entire time.  Once you start, you’ll have to know how this book ends.

Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Jane Wunderly #1) – 4
Jane Wunderly, a war widow, is accompanying her aunt Millie on a trip to Egypt in 1926.  She has always dreamed to seeing the Great Pyramids, so this trip is a dream come true.  The only hiccup might be her aunt’s not so subtle attempts at matchmaking.  That is, until she has some run ins with Anna Stainton, a beautiful socialite who has decided Jane is a rival.  When Jane finds Anna’s dead body, the local police think Jane has a good motive for murder.  Reluctantly teaming up with the mysterious Mr. Redvers, Jane begins to hunt for the real killer.  Can she figure out what happened?

This book is fun, and it captured me from the first couple of sentences.  Jane, Redvers, and the rest are a delight to spend time around.  I definitely laughed at some of Jane and Redvers’s scenes together.  Yet the characters do have layers, and I enjoyed seeing those emerge as the book progressed.  I was having so much fun, it took me a while to see the plot was a little weak.  While there are clues and twists, it felt like we could have used a few more of them.  Still, the writing kept the pages turning, and the climax was suspenseful.  I enjoyed this debut, and I’m very curious to find out where Jane goes next.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. Thank you, Mark! I loved seeing ABSTRACT ALIASES in with all these other amazing reads. Your March list is terrific!

  2. Maddie and I are delighted you loved the second Cozy Capers Book Group mystery, Mark.

  3. You did great for March! Happy April! Stay safe!

  4. Looks like you had some great reads this month. Here's to another great month!

  5. Seems like March was a good month for you! Hope April is even better!