As usual, the link takes you to my full review. The Index has not been updated; I'll get to it next month.
All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – 5
Meet the Once-ler. Back in the past, he found a forest of Truffula Trees. Through ingenuity, he found a way to make these trees into something that everyone could use. However, the Lorax shows up to try to warn him of the dangers that might cause. Will the Once-ler listen?
I had this book as a kid, and we read it many times while I was growing up. Rereading it as an adult, I was struck again by just how dark this book is. There is a clear environmental message to the book. I do wish it were more even handed, but I realize this is a picture book for kids, and a morality tale at that. The pictures and creatures are pure Dr. Seuss and are fun. The story, while told in rhyme, features some of Dr. Seuss’s made up creatures, so it isn’t early reader friendly, but as kids are ready to tackle something more challenging with the help of adults, this book would be great.
Survive or Die by Catherine Dilts – 4
The employees of Bender Clips are going on a corporate retreat. Jack Bender, the owner, has shut things down for a week and rented out the Survive or Die camp in the Colorado mountains. The camp was used as the location for a reality TV show of the same name a decade ago, and the host is still basking off the fame that show brought him. Jack has a surprise for his employees. The winner of the week will get a raise, and the loser will get fired. Leave early? You might be fired as well. The employees, and a few spouses tagging along, are less than enthusiastic at this turn. And some of the employees have their own agendas for the week that go beyond the challenges.
Before things get too far, a small group of employees find a death threat left on Jack Bender’s car. The first night, someone dies, only it isn’t Jack. Was it a tragic accident? Is there a killer at camp? Who will win the raise? Or will accidents befall more people?
This is a creative book. The plot is as much about the competition as the murder, and I got caught up in both stories. One part of the climax turned things darker than I was expecting, but overall, I enjoyed the book and everything is explained by the end. While we have a core number of characters, there are a lot of them, and I had trouble keeping them all straight at times. Fortunately, we usually got the needed context when someone entered a scene. The core characters are well developed, and we get some nice growth in most of them. There is subtle humor aimed at corporate life in the book; as a corporate employee during the day, I found it fun while hitting too close to home.
NOTE: I received a copy of this book.
Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg (Ian Ludlow #2) – 4
Bestselling author Ian Ludlow is heading to Hong Kong on business – promotion for a film based on one of his books and research for his next one – and Margo French is joining him as his research assistant. Neither of them realize that their arrival in Hong Kong has attracted the wrong kind of attention thanks again to one of Ian’s books. Will they recognize the danger they are in before it is too late?
I enjoyed this one just as much as the first in the series. There is plenty of humor as events progress, some coming from the circumstances and some coming from a skewering of Hollywood thanks to the movie Ian is there to help promote. I did feel some of the humor fell into the adolescent male category, which I didn’t always appreciate, but this isn’t something new for this author. Thanks to well done multiple viewpoint storytelling, we know the slow burn that is happening before Ian and Margo realize they’ve attracted the wrong attention, but once the book really takes off, it becomes impossible to put down. I love the fact that Ian is not a typical thriller hero since he is an overweight, middle age, writer. He and Margo are great main characters. If you are looking for a fun mix of humor and thrills, this is the book for you.
Lion Down by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #5) – 4
While FunJungle is located in a mostly uninhabited area of Texas, there are some larger estates and ranches that border the park’s property. Living in one of those is Lincoln Stone, a radio and TV news personality that is known for saying very controversial things. He has a dog he loves, and, unfortunately, that dog has been killed. Lincoln is quick to blame it on the mountain lion that roams in the area, but the agent of the Department of Fish and Wildlife put in charge of the case doesn’t think that’s true. Thanks to Teddy’s reputation for solving puzzles at FunJungle, the agent turns to Teddy for help. Teddy agrees that the evidence left behind doesn’t add up. Can he figure out what happened? Meanwhile, Teddy and Summer, his girlfriend, are asked to figure out why the giraffes in FunJungle get sick every Monday. Will this case distract them from saving the mountain lion?
It’s nice to see Teddy get involved in one mystery that takes place outside the parks in this one. The mysteries are strong and are balanced perfectly, with clues that ultimately lead Teddy to the solution. The climax pulls in all the elements of the book in an unexpected way that leads into a page turning race to save the day. While this series has balanced the environmental message and the mystery well, this one got close to lecturing us a couple of times instead of working it in more organically. I thought the characters created for this book were a little thin and more caricature than character. Both of these complaints are things that adults will notice more than the kids who are the target age range for the books, however. The series regulars are still strong, and I especially love Teddy, Summer, and their families. The usual suspects also bring us several very funny scenes.
Chocolate Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #24) – 3
Valentine’s Day is coming, and The Cookie Jar is getting ready to cater various Valentine’s Parties with new treats. Hannah Swensen is throwing herself into this baking in order to not think about the news she’s gotten that Ross was already married, so their wedding was all a lie. She has told the town of Lake Eden in an effort to curb gossip, and all of her friends are with her. Which is why Ross sneaks back into town in the early hours of the morning demanding something from Hannah – something she might not be able to give him. What will happen if she can’t?
As a longtime fan of the series, I’ve been expecting this book for several books now. The murder itself takes place late in the book and is wrapped up quickly. There were some other plot elements I was enjoying, so I wasn’t bored, however, I wish things hadn’t been left dangling quite so much until the next book in the series. We get plenty of talk about food as always, with twenty-eight new recipes by my count. It is always nice to catch up with these characters, at least for this fan of the series. If you have been a fan, you’ll want the next chapter in Hannah’s saga, but if you are new, don’t jump in here.
Bridges Burned by Annette Dashofy (Zoe Chambers #3) – 5
It all starts with an explosion. One of the few houses in a new subdivision explodes after the residents report smelling gas. While EMT Zoe Chambers isn’t on duty, she rushes to the scene to offer whatever aid she can. While she is there, she stops the distraught owner from rushing in to see if his wife was home. Sadly, the wife’s remains are found in the rubble. The fire investigator also find evidence that the gas leak and explosion that killed her wasn’t an accident. While police chief Pete Adams, Zoe’s new boyfriend, immediately suspects the husband of setting things up, Zoe doesn’t believe it. It helps that she has begun bonding with the victim’s daughter. Both Pete and Zoe dig in their heels, certain that they are correct. Where will the facts lead? Will their relationship be destroyed before the truth is revealed?
With Zoe and Pete’s relationship being fairly new, this mystery really tests them. As always, both are prominent characters, even sharing time as our third person view point characters. That’s a good thing, too, since it allows us to better understand where they are coming from in their arguments and lets us see they both know when they might be wrong or did something stupid. But all this drama is only part of the book. While this might be a bit more of a procedural than the multiple suspect books I am used to reading, we still get plenty of twists and turns to the case and a climax that had me turning pages as fast as I could to see what would happen next. Obviously, Zoe and Pete are strong leads, but the rest of the cast are just as strong. Like the rest of the series, this book straddles the line between traditional and cozy with just a smattering of foul language and a bit more detail than in the books I normally read. Just know that going in, and you’ll be fine.
“M” is for Malice by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #13) – 5
PI Kinsey Millhone is reluctant to take a case from one of her recently discovered cousins, Tasha Howard, but the case is too intriguing to turn down. The head of Malek Construction has recently died, and the only will anyone can find divides his estate among his four sons. The problem is no one has heard from Guy, the black sheep of the family, since he was supposedly disinherited almost twenty years ago. Can Kinsey pick up a very cold trail and find him?
Those familiar with the series will know what to expect, plenty of family drama and a case that is much more complicated than it sounds. Yes, things slow down a bit in the middle, but I suspected what was coming next and I found that suspense more than enough to keep me reading. Kinsey is the star of this series, and her slow growth is enjoyable to watch. We do get a bit from other series regulars, but we spent the most time with the characters related to the mystery, and they are all strong. I was especially happy to note that a group of Christians Kinsey meets don’t turn out to all be hypocrites or extremists, which is what I expect almost every time I run across that in a mystery. Fans of Kinsey who haven’t read this book yet are in for a strong entry in the series.
The Revenge of Magic by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #1) – 5
It’s been six months since the attack on Washington, D.C. Six months since Forsythe “Fort” Fitzgerald’s world was turned upside down when a giant creature comes up from the ground and destroys many of the monuments there, killing his father in the process. In that time, one thought has kept Fort moving forward – the desire for revenge.
One day, Fort is surprised to be visited by the representatives of a school for magic. Thirteen years ago, four magic books were found and only those born after they were discovered can read and use them. When Fort is offered a chance to study at this school, he jumps on it, figuring this is a chance to learn something to help him extract his revenge. However, not everything at the school is what it seems. Can Fort learn what people are hiding from him? Or will he be kicked out before that happens?
Since this is the first in the series, there is some world building that happens here. However, it is mixed into the story so well that it never really slows things down. It borrows a few fantasy tropes, but it mixes them up in such a way that it makes you forget where you might have seen them before. The characters have layers to them, and, while they feel developed for a first book in a new series, I suspect we will be seeing much more depth to them as the series progresses. The story moves forward quickly, and I never wanted to put it down. This is a little darker and has less humor than James Riley’s earlier series, but it isn’t really that dark. I’m intrigued by the threads left dangling at the end of this book and can’t wait to see where things go next. Pick this book up today so you won’t be left behind on this magical ride.
Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #2) – 4
It’s the week before Christmas, and Cyd is dreading the upcoming holiday filled with rumors, whispers, and awkward family moments. Then Barry Manzoni comes to her for help. Barry is a childhood friend and Cyd’s ex-husband. His parents are on an Australian cruise, and they vanished part way through. Even though they didn’t book with Redondo Travel, Cyd still begins to use her contacts to see what she can learn. In fact, she uses one of those contacts to get herself booked on the next cruise their ship is taking, which is following the same route. Okay, so she might be using the trip to avoid Christmas with her family, but she does want to help Barry.
After a whirlwind trip half way around the world, she arrives on the ship only to find a dead body. The crew want to say it is a tragic accident, but Cyd suspects foul play. Does this tie into the disappearance of the Manzonis? Can Cyd trust anyone on board?
If you haven’t read the first book in the series, a warning – this book does by necessity spoil some of the events of the first book in the series. If you have read the first book, you know exactly what to expect here, and you won’t be disappointed. We’ve got a fast-paced story with twists that keep Cyd hopping as she tries to uncover what exactly is happening. There is a strong screwball comedy element that keeps us laughing, although some events and Cyd herself keeps us grounded. I did feel the book got a bit frantic at times, but it never lasted too long. The characters are a little caricature as well, but that just makes them fit perfectly into this world. There is a smattering of foul language here. We also have a very strong sub-plot with another endangered animal, but there is no animal cruelty involved this time around. I enjoyed the different take on the Christmas setting – since the book is set mostly off the coast of Australia, we don’t have cold and snow, after all. This is a fun ride, so pick up this book and hold on tight.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz (Orphan X #4) – 5
Evan Smoak’s first mission as a nineteen-year-old in 1997 sent him to an Eastern European country to take out a general who was going to make the region unstable. Well, more unstable than it already was. At the time, current President Bennett was just an undersecretary at the Department of Defense who was secretly in charge of the Orphan program. At the time, Evan thought the mission went off without a hitch, but now he finds himself directly in President Bennett’s crosshairs. What about that mission is so dangerous to President Bennett now?
This conflict is personal, and Evan knows that it will only end with one of the two men dead. Therefore, Evan has to find a way to take out the most protected man in the world. With President Blank sending Orphan A after Evan, he must gather information quickly and quietly. Meanwhile, someone has called Evan’s phone requesting his help. And that help is on a deadline as well. Will Evan be able to juggle both missions and come out alive?
Even though President Bennett is obviously not any President in US history, I still had to overcome my issues with the premise when I picked up this book. Fortunately, that didn’t take me too long as I was soon hanging on. Yes, once again we have a fast-paced thrill ride as Evan faces one complication after another in an effort to save his life and protect his newest client. I loved his ingenuity in solving these problems against overwhelming odds. Evan continues to struggle with his humanity as he deals with real life, and I love the depth it brings to his character. The rest of the cast, whether new or returning, as just as strong. Naturally, this book does feature more language and violence than my normal cozies, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine. While the book is an outgrowth of what has happened in the series so far, it really can be read as a standalone. We get the background we need without spoiling the twists and turns of the previous books. So pick up this thriller today and set aside enough time to read it. Once you start, you won’t want to put it down.
The Hidden Corpse by Debra Sennefelder (Food Blogger Mysteries #2) – 4
Hope’s neighbor Peggy Olson has come to Hope for help after catching some stuff on fire in her kitchen. Peggy had fallen asleep only to wake up to the smoke. What bothers her is she didn’t even remember starting to cook anything. When Peggy’s house burns down the next day with Peggy inside, Hope feels extremely guilty for not saying anything to protect Peggy from accidentally doing this again. That guilt changes when the police find evidence that it could have been arson. A second body in the house only further confuses things. Can Hope figure out what happened to her neighbor?
This book has a very strong mystery with plenty of questions that need to be answered. The suspects were strong as well, and they kept me guessing until the end. In fact, I was certain it was several of them at various points in the book, yet the final solution made perfect sense. Hope is a great main character as well. My biggest issue is the supporting cast. I feel like they are still fairly thin characters, and several of them are annoying. I hope they get more fleshed out as the series progresses, allowing us to like them more. Since I am a blogger (but not a food blogger), I found that aspect of Hope’s life very interesting, although her world is very different from mine. And, speaking of food, there are six delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Downton Tabby by Sparkle Abby (Pampered Pets Mysteries #7) – 4
Pet therapist Caro Lamont is spending this morning in her office working on some paperwork, which is why, when Graham Cash asks her to watch his tabby cat, Toria, for a little while, she readily agrees. Cash and his business partner, Jake, have rented an office for their very successful app making business in the building that Caro uses, and Caro has enjoyed getting to know them both.
When Cash doesn’t return in the agreed upon time, Caro begins to get worried. After all, she has afternoon appointments. She decides to take Toria to the house that the business partners share. However, when she arrives, she finds no sign of Cash and Jake’s dead body floating in their pool. What happened to Jake? Is Cash okay? Or is he the killer?
There is plenty happened here, including a visit by Caro’s ex-husband, so the pages fly by. Unfortunately, all the events mean that the mystery could have been a bit stronger. Still, it had some fun twists and surprises before reaching the logical conclusion. The real star here are the characters, both two and four legged. The pets will charm you, and the humans will entertain you. Some are more realistic and help draw you into the story. Others are so over the top that you are certain to laugh. Yet they are perfectly balanced and feel natural interacting with each other. This series is always a light, fun treat, and this entry is no exception.