Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

And 2019's first month is behind us.  Here's what I read this month.  And yes, the index has been updated.

As usual, the links take you to my full reviews.

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

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham (Veronica Mars #2) – 5
Veronica Mars is hired by the Neptune Grand to clear them of responsibility for an attack that left a young woman almost dead several miles away.  Before she was found, she was last in the hotel.  At first, she claims she can't remember what happened in the attack, but then she names someone on the hotel's staff.  With a client who wants Veronica to prove them innocent and a victim who thinks Veronica's only motive is to discredit her, can she find the truth?  Meanwhile, Weevil's trial is winding down.  Will the jury reach the correct verdict?  And will Veronica's father ever be able to use the stories he's found of the Sherriff department's evidence planting?

Having been a fan of the Veronica Mars TV show since the pilot aired, I'm a bit surprised it took me so long to read this second book.  I'm glad I finally did because I loved it.  The mystery introduced here was great, and it gave us a good excuse to check in with many of our favorite characters.  We even saw some minor characters again.  The characters are all fantastic.  I was most surprised by how much I grew to appreciate Veronica and Logan's relationship, something I'd never been a fan of in the TV series.  Like with the first book, I wish this had been told in Veronica's first-person narration – I missed her snarky narration from the series.  But that's a minor complaint.  Fans of the series will definitely love it.  Those new to the franchise might have trouble appreciating everything that happens here, but the obvious solution is to go back and watch the show.  You'll find it is well worth your time.

The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range #6) – 5
Cowboy brothers turned detectives Big Red and Old Red have started a new detective agency with Diana and her father, Colonel Crowe.  There's just one problem, the lack of paying customers.  So when they are hired to travel to DeBatge, New Mexico, and catch some cattle rustlers, Old Red reluctantly agrees to go even though it's not the kind of case he wants to take.  With Diana tagging along, the brothers set out.  However, when they arrive, they discover a town divided with tensions running high.  The source of this powder keg?  Their client.  Then a dead body turns up, igniting the fuse.  Can Old Red figure things out before the town explodes?  Will the trio get caught in the crossfire no matter what happens?

I was so glad when I learned author Steve Hockensmith was writing a new adventure for these two cowboys.  If you haven't yet had the pleasure of traveling back to the 1890's with them, you are in for a treat.  The characters are wonderful.  Since we don't have too many recurring characters, that leaves plenty of room for new characters, and figuring out if they are friend or foe drives so much of the plot.  Yes, there is a mystery, and Old Red does a great job of figuring out what is going on.  He was certainly several steps ahead of me.  However, the added stress of the conflicts in town adds to the tension and puts Big Red and Old Red's lives in danger on a regular basis.  The humor from the earlier books is still here as well and helps defuse the tension a little.

A Literal Mess by J. C. Kenney (Allie Cobb #1) – 5
Allie Cobb has returned home to Rushing Creek, Indiana for her father's funeral.  While his death wasn't a surprise, it has still hit her hard.  She's not prepared for tragedy to strike her small town a second time when the body of Thornwell Winchester is found.  He was one of Allie's father's literary clients, and also the father of Allie's best friend, Sloane.  When Sloane becomes the police's chief suspect, Allie steps in to find out the truth.  Can she do it?

This book is more serious in tone than many of the cozies I read, but given what brings Allie home, that is completely appropriate.  I never found that overwhelming, and the book doesn't dwell on it.  After all, this is a mystery, and it isn't long before we are off meeting Thornwell and the potential suspects.  I was intrigued by the red herrings and enjoyed the twists as we headed toward the logical climax.  The suspects are strong, but I was really impressed with the series regulars.  They have pasts and baggage that brought them to the page fully formed.  I'm interested to see how that dynamic plays out as the series progresses.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Commander Toad and the Voyage Home by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Bruce Degen (Commander Toad #7) – 5
This book finds Commander Toad and the crew of the Star Warts winding down their mission to explore the galaxy.  After several years in space, they can now head home for some much needed rest.  So, Commander Toad puts the command into the computer.  Only, when they arrive, they don’t recognize the planet at all.  What has happened?

This is the final picture book about these characters, but all the charm is still here.  There are plenty of laughs and puns.  The storyline is good and gets resolved in a way the intended audience will understand.  Parents might have to help young reader with a few words, but it is a good challenge when the time comes to expand young readers’ vocabulary.  The illustrations perfectly capture the story while also sliding in a few extra jokes.

Saturn Night Fever by Diane Vallere (Sylvia Stryker Space Case #3) – 5
It's been a few months since we last saw Sylvia, and in that time, she's been living on Neptune's compound, training with him and her friend, smuggler Mattix.  One day, Mattix's ship arrives back at Neptune's place on autopilot.  Inside, Neptune and Sylvia find a message from Pika, the little Gremlon who has also been living with them, asking for help.  Then they find Mattix's body.  Naturally, Neptune and Sylvia do the only thing they can, steal a Moon Unit Corporation ship, hire a small crew, and set out to reach Saturn and figure out what has happened to Pika.  But can their crew be trusted?  Will they survive the flight?

I was anxious to pick up this book to find out what happened after the revelation that ended the previous book.  We definitely get more on that here.  In fact, we get plenty on that as Sylvia is also trying to resolve her latest troubles.  There are plenty of twists and turns there as well since Sylvia doesn't really know who she can trust.  I did feel that in the midst of the twists the original premise got hurt a little, but I may be overthinking things, and it was definitely a minor issues.  Author Diane Vallere does a great job of making the science fiction setting and alien characters relatable.  Cozy mystery fans like myself will feel right at home here.  The alien characters allow for a few more over the top characters, but I loved that, and overall, I still found them to be relatable characters.

Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lovers Mysteries #2) – 4
Carrie Rushton has just been elected president of the Friends of the Library.  Even though Lindsay Norris isn't a member of the group since she's the head of the library itself, she is thrilled to be working with someone bringing fresh ideas and perspectives.  However, after Carrie's first meeting in her new role, she returns home to find her husband shot to death.  People are quick to jump to the conclusion that Carrie is guilty, but Lindsay is sure the woman is innocent.  Will a winter storm coming to the area turn the trail of the real killer cold?

While I still don't have all the supporting characters straight in my head, the characters important to this mystery are all well developed.  That includes not only the suspects, but the main characters.  Thanks to a couple of sub-plots, I found the pacing uneven, although things did pick up for the climax.  Things do fit together well, but there is a major timing issue in the climax.  It annoys, but it is minor overall.  While I always enjoy Jenn's books, I found this one super funny, laughing out loud multiple times over the course of the story.  I'm already looking forward to my next stop at this library.

The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #4) – 4
The only thing that could make summer vacation better for Frank and Joe Hardy is a mystery, and one is handed to them by Chief Collig when he asks them to go undercover at the homeless encampment outside of town and find out what is causing the increased fighting down there.  Before the teens can begin their assignment, they witness a bank robbery, however.  Then, after a costume party hosted by Callie Shaw and Iola Morton, their friends Chet and Biff vanish.  Can the brothers figure out what happened to their friends?  Are all these events connected?

I was a bit worried that the book had bitten off more than it could successfully resolve, but it did a good job of reigning in these plots and bringing them to a successful conclusion.  I enjoyed seeing how Frank and Joe figured things out and successfully wrapped everything up.  The characters are shallow as always, but it's not something I remember as a kid, so I bet today's kids will not notice either.  They might notice how dated some elements are, including the word "chum" in the title.  However, that kind of things never stopped me as a kid, and I bet most will get caught up in the fast-moving action of the story.

Not a Creature was Stirring by Christina Freeburn (Merry & Bright Handcrafted Mysteries #1) – 4
Merry is hoping to turn her Christmas crafting business into a full-time job, and as part of that plan, she's purchased a motorhome from her ex-step-daughter.  The hope is she can use it as a mobile crafting studio and a place to show her stuff at some of the more popular craft shows.  She's trying it out at the Christmas Holiday Bazaar, one of her favorite events of the year.  However, when she's unloading her products, she finds the dead body of her ex-husband in one of the storage compartments.  How did his dead body get into the RV?

With as much as I love Christmas, this book was a lot of fun.  We got lots of talk about everything Christmas, even comparing characters to famous fictional Christmas characters.  I did feel the book needed another polish to flesh a few things out, and I found Merry's concern for her ex-husband's family a little hard to believe considering how short her marriage had been.  On the other hand, I loved the majority of the characters, and Merry's relationships with her own kids was fabulous.  The plot was good with many twists and turns.  I figured out a couple of things early, but I was left guessing about the rest of it until the end.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

"Changing Habits" by Alice Loweecey (Giulia Falcone #3.5) – 5
It's a week before Giulia Falcone's wedding to Frank Driscoll, her former boss and soon to be partner in Driscoll Investigations, and she has a few last-minute things to take care of.  You know, typical details for the week before the wedding like getting the wedding favors together, finding a wedding dress, and figure out who is switching the valuable items in various churches in the area for cheap fakes.  Nothing major, right?  When the latest theft hits close to home, Giulia is determined to find the guilty party.  Can she handle everything?

This short story was written to bridge the transition as Giulia switched publishers.  It packs quite a bit into the story, but handles it all in an entertaining way.  The story doesn't have quite the twists and turns of a novel, but it entertained me for the hour it took me to read it.  Likewise, the characters don't show us any hidden depths, but we still get to enjoy time spent with them.  Since I love this cast of characters, I was glad for that chance.  Plus there are a few laughs along the way.  Long time fans will enjoy this story, and those who jump in here will be left wanting to spend even more time with Giulia.

Lost Light by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #9) – 5
It's been several months since Harry Bosch retired from his job as a homicide detective in Los Angeles.  He's attempting to adjust to life as a civilian, but he can't resist when another former cop mentions a cold case they'd both worked on.  Angella Benton was strangled in the entrance to her apartment building.  Just as Bosch was beginning to investigate, the heist of two million dollars from a movie set gave the case a bigger profile, and the robbery homicide division took it over.  Four years later, the murder remains unsolved and the money has not been found.  But Bosch has barely begun poking into it again before he is warned off.  Is someone still interested in this case?  Can Bosch solve it without his badge to open doors for him?

I enjoyed seeing Bosch working without his badge, overcoming the added obstacle of not having any official business looking into this case.  While he may not be a cop, we still did get cameos by many of the series regulars, and it was great to check in with them.  The characters are strong as always, with Bosch leading the pack.  I was surprised to find that this book was narrated first person, something I always enjoy.  I hadn't run across that in a Harry Bosch book yet.  The case itself was gripping with plenty of twists and turns to keep us engaged up until the end.  I listened to the audio version narrated by Len Cariou, who does a great job except for one character.  Fortunately, that character isn't a major player in the action of the book.

Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry (Garden Squad Mysteries #1) – 4
Lilly Jayne is opening up her garden for a garden party for the first time in years, a first step toward getting back into life in Goosebush, Massachusetts, after the death of her husband.  Unfortunately, getting back into life in Goosebush includes dealing with her first husband's current wife.  Merilee Frank goes looking for trouble and does a very good job of stirring it up.  She makes several scenes at the party, but the real shock comes a few days later when Merilee turns up dead.  With the police looking at several people Lilly is certain are innocent, she begins to investigate with the help of her best friends.  But can they figure out what really happened?

This is the start of a new series, but I can already tell you I love these characters.  Lilly and her "squad" are well drawn, and how much they obviously care for each other made me care for them.  I do feel the book could have been a little tighter, especially at the beginning, but it never wandered for too long, and a strong gardening sub-plot helped keep me engaged.  I did feel the third person narration head hopped a bit, a personal pet peeve, but that was a minor complaint.  I love the setting, a coastal small town.  This is exactly the kind of place I'd love to visit if I could.  The mystery itself was enjoyable with several strong suspects.  I began to suspect where things were going as we got close to the end, but I didn't have everything figured out until Lilly pieced things together for us.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

The Gun Also Rises by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston #6) – 5
Sarah Winston has been hired to organize a book sale for Mrs. Belle Winthrop Granville, III, focusing on Belle's massive mystery collection.  But sandwiched in between the Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, and Ann Cleeves books, she finds what appears to be the Hemingway manuscripts that went miss from a train in Paris in the 1920's.  Belle is just as shocked to see them as Sarah is.  But a couple of hours later, Belle has been attacked, the manuscripts are missing, and someone is dead.  What has Sarah stumbled into this time?

Once again, we are treated to a fabulous mystery that is more treasure hunt than strict cozy murder mystery.  Not that I'm complaining in the slightest.  The pace never slows down as we jump from one thing to another as Sarah tries to figure out what happened before her life spins even further out of control.  We don't see as much of some of the series regulars, but we do get to see more of others, and I liked how relationships were growing here.  Naturally, the book is filled with well-developed new characters.  The mentions of various mystery books made me smile.  The sub-plots involving the air force base were really well done and once again spotlighted some of the real issues those who sacrifice so much for this country go through, both those serving and their families.  This is a strong entry in a series that keeps getting better.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Murder, She Meowed by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic #7) – 4
With three weeks before her wedding, Stan Connor is finding it hard to keep her mother and sister from taking over and planning things their way.  She does finally give in to her sister’s desire to throw her a traditional bachelorette party, but things end on a somber note when the stripper is found dead in the cake he was supposed to jump out of.  Worse yet, Stan knew the young man.  Feeling the need to investigate, Stan tries to figure out who would have wanted to kill him.  Can she do it?

I did feel this book got sidetracked at times by the wedding planning sub-plot, but that might be because I’m a guy.  There is definitely a strong mystery here with several viable suspects and a great climax.  Along the way, we get plenty of twists and turns.  While Stan’s relationship with her family has grown some, the wedding planning brings out some of their old relationships, and it was interesting to see this side of the characters again.  Some of the regulars play smaller parts here, but it is great to see the regulars no matter how much page time they got.  Those who have pets will be interested in the two new recipes for organic treats at the end of the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

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