Thursday, August 29, 2019

August 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Yes, I'm a couple of days early this month, but I figured with the holiday weekend coming up, now was a good time to post my monthly reading summary for August.  And, would you believe, the index is updated as well?  (I know, I'm shocked, too.)

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

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

Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns (Italian Chef Mysteries #1) – 4
Tessa Esposito has had her life turned upside down.  Her husband has been killed in a car accident, leaving her a widow at 30.  However, she is about to get another shock.  Her cousin Gino, a cop, stops by to visit and drops the bombshell on her – the police don’t think the accident was an accident at all.  Instead, they think it was murder.  And he suggests that someone at Slice, the local pizza parlor where Dylan had lunch most days, might be responsible.  After all, he was last seen alive leaving the restaurant.  Tessa loves to cook, and Slice just happens to be advertising for a cook, so she snags the job, hoping to get a clue about what really happened to her husband.  But her co-workers don’t seem to happy to see her.  Is she going to be able to get anything out of them?

With Tessa’s husband being the victim, this book starts out with a more somber tone.  Some events try to lighten it, but it didn’t quite work for me.  After a bit of time to set up the characters and plot, things take off, and the book becomes impossible to put down.  Tessa must unpeel the layers like an onion, and each new layer has a twist that kept me hooked until I reached the end.  The suspects are all strong, and Tessa is a sympathetic lead character.  It is easy to understand everything she is going through.  The potential series regulars have a little room to grow, but that’s because they weren’t on the page too much.  That’s what sequels are for, right?  I did find some inconsistencies in the timeline late in the book, but nothing that ruins the plot at all.  My biggest complaint is how much Tessa’s love life was a sub-plot; it’s something that should have been held until at least the next book in the series in my opinion.  The book has some delicious sounding recipes at the end, including Tessa’s prize-winning tomato sauce.  Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to seeing what happens to Tessa next.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness Mysteries #13) – 3
Lady Georgiana and Darcy have finally wed, and Darcy has a surprise – an extended honeymoon in Kenya.  Georgie is excited to get to see local wildlife, but once they arrive, she quickly learns that Darcy is hoping to get some information on a notorious jewel thief that is rumored to be making an appearance in the country soon.  The couple are quick to settle into the British colony in the country, but they begin to realize that not everyone is as friendly as they first appear.  Then a murder interrupts their trip.  Can they figure out what is happening?

Those who are fans of Darcy (like me), will be pleased with his presence in this book.  As is befitting a honeymoon, he and Georgie are true partners in figuring out what is happening around them.  Not that he steals the show from Georgie, who still figures out just about everything along the way.  We do get the usual slow start, which allows us a little time to hear from most of the series regulars before heading down to Kenya.  And let me say their trip made me very happy for how travel has advanced since the 1930’s.  Even when we arrive in Kenya, it takes a bit of time for the murder to take place, but once it does, the mystery is well worth the wait with some great secrets that Georgie and Darcy must bring to light.  I did have a hard time keeping all of the British colonists straight, but that never got in the way of following the mystery.  My bigger complaint is an event that takes place in the middle of the book that seems force to have Darcy and Georgie where they are needed for the plot.  I appreciated how the book worked in the world politics of the time without feeling out of place in the series.  And I also appreciated the ability to be an arm chair traveler since I can’t take a vacation this year, although it really made me want to go on a safari of my own.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Becoming Superman by J. Michael Stracyznski – 5
In this book, author J. Michael Stracyznski (JMS to his fans) tells the story of his family and his life.  Starting with his grandparents, he gives us some background before telling us about his childhood under an abusive father and a distant mother.  In between moving every few months to stay ahead of creditors, JMS discovered ways to escape via TV shows, comic books, and science fiction.  As he discovered the power of words, he vowed to become a writer.  That desire eventually lead him to a career in comic books and in Hollywood on such things as He-Man; She-Ra; The Real Ghostbusters; Babylon 5; Murder, She Wrote; Sense8; and the movies Changeling, Thor, and World War Z.

I picked up this book because I am an obsessive Babylon 5 fan.  Those picking it up for lots of Hollywood behind the scenes stories will be disappoint, although we do get some in the second half.  Instead, it is more a story of his family, their secrets, and how they impacted his life.  At times, it is a hard read.  JMS’s life for his first 20 plus years was not easy or fun.  But, ultimately, this is a story of triumph as he works to overcome his baggage.  It is a powerful story that proves where you start doesn’t have to be where you finish if you are willing to take responsibility for yourself, your actions, and your choices, something we need more of in our society today.  I think this book will change my view of Babylon 5 the next time I watch it, something I need to do soon as I think knowing the man behind the story will make some things mean more and be even more powerful.  This is not light reading, but it is powerful reading and worth the time spent in the book.

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems – 4
Pigeon has just learned that he has to start attending school.  Surely, he doesn’t have to do that.  After all, he already knows everything.  Will there be math?  There are too many letters!  And Pigeon is not a morning bird.  Will anything be able to change his mind?

Author Mo Willems continues to find ways to tell stories using only pictures and dialogue that keep us engaged.  This is another fast yet entertaining read.  Most kids are excited about getting to go to school, but this book should help those who might be more reluctant and will entertain all kids.  While Pigeon presents some reasons to not go to school that kids might not have thought of, by the end he is very excited about the prospect.  (Personally, I still understand Pigeon’s concern about not being a morning bird.)  I appreciated the nod to one of Pigeon’s earlier books.  The stylized illustrations are a delight as always and really do help tell the story.  Whether you have a kid starting school soon or not, you and your kid will enjoy this book.

The Deep End by Julie Mulhern (Country Club Murders #1) – 5
Ellison Russell is devoted to her teenage daughter, Grace, and her art.  She and her husband are still living together, but that is only because they have decided to wait to get divorced until Grace is out of the house.  Part of Ellison’s routine is a swim at dawn in the country club’s pool.  On this particular June morning in 1974, she swims into a dead body in the pool.  Worse yet, when the police arrive and pull the body out of the pool, she recognizes the victim as Madeline Harper, her husband’s mistress.  Ellison knows that she makes a pretty compelling suspect in the woman’s murder, as does her husband.  She knows she is innocent and she believes that her husband may be an adulterer, but he isn’t a killer.  However, the fact that he’s suddenly left town for parts unknown doesn’t make him appear innocent.  Can Ellison figure out what really happened to Madeline?

I’ve been hearing about this series for years, but I kept putting off starting it.  I wish I’d read it sooner.  The plot starts out right away and gives us plenty of action and twists along the way.  I never saw the solution coming until Ellison figured it out either.  The main characters are all strong and help pull us into the world, although I do wish that we had a little more context for some of the supporting players.  I was also bothered by Ellison’s love life; it just felt inappropriate for this book.  I’m sure in future books I will be fine with what is set up here.  The subject matter does stray to the edges of cozies, but I thought how things were handled here was fine and it didn’t bother me.  I greatly enjoyed the humor in the book, mostly coming from Ellison’s narration on things.  Yet it is perfectly balances with some of the more serious elements of the plot.  I can see why this series has so many fans, and I’m already one of them.  Now, to find time to visit Ellison again.

Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #9) – 5
After a recent close call, midwife Sarah Brandt has vowed to stay away from solving crimes and getting involved in anything dangerous.  However, she is in Chinatown with the Lee family since Cora Lee is about to give birth and gets a front row to the family drama unfolding.  Cora’s niece, Angel, is upset that her father has arranged a marriage for her to an older man and runs away.  The family is frantic to find her because the city is no place for a fifteen-year-old to be alone.  While the family does find her, she turns up dead a few days later.  Sarah manages to get NYPD Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy involved in the case because she fears other police won’t care to fully investigate given who the victim was.  But can Malloy figure it out?  Will Sarah get involved despite her promise to stay away from murder?

Once again, we are expertly transported back to 1890’s New York City.  Along with our normal glimpses of life during the time period, we get to see a bit of how the Chinese were treated during the time; unfortunately, it isn’t pretty.  However, the book never stops to preach at us, instead working this in during the mystery.  The case itself is strong with plenty of twists to keep us entertained until the end.  I thought I had a few things figured out, but I discovered I was wrong when I reached the logical ending.  Sarah, in her efforts to stay out of the case, isn’t quite as involved as Frank, but she still has plenty to contribute.  Both are great lead characters, and I enjoyed spending time with the regular supporting players as well as meeting the new characters introduced here.  We get some advancement on a couple of on-going storylines, and it looks like one of them will be the main focus of the next in the series.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where that leads.

Tilling the Truth by Julia Henry (Garden Squad Mysteries #2) – 5
It’s August in Goosebush, Massachusetts, but Lilly Jayne and the rest of the Garden Squad just as busy as every trying to make their town beautiful again.  But there are some thorns among the blooms.  The recent death of a friend has left Lilly, as executor of his estate, dealing with his greedy relatives.  Meanwhile, Lilly’s best friend, Tamara, is finding her efforts to sell the dead man’s house meeting with sabotage, something that is only making her stress over the new relator in town worse.  But things come to a head when Tamara is found standing over the dead body of Gladys Preston.  Gladys didn’t have many friends in town, but she recently had a very public fight with Tamara.  As the rumor mill begins to heat up, Lilly knows she needs to figure out what really happened to help her friend clear her name.  Can she do it?

I fell in love with these characters with the first book in the series, and it was great to be back to visit them again.  I will admit it took me a bit to get completely back in the flow of the characters and Goosebush, but it wasn’t long before I had.  Lilly and many of her friends are on the older side, and I enjoy this break from the traditional cozy lead character.  They and the new characters came to life for me as the story unfolded.  The plot takes on quite a bit, so as a result the book appears to be wandering a little before Gladys dies, but everything is important and comes into play.  I’m actually a little in awe of how it all came together, although the ending was a tad rushed.  I also appreciated how the theme of old versus new or tradition versus change played out in the book.  I suspect we will see that again in future books.  For those who have a green thumb, some gardening tips are included at the back of the book.  This second book is fun as we get to watch Lilly weed out another killer.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Silent Night, Deadly Night by Vicki Delany (Year-Round Christmas Mysteries #4) – 5
Merry Wilkinson is looking forward to Thanksgiving, but her mother, Aline, is looking forward to the weekend before.  Aline has invited her college friends to come to Rudolph, New York, for a reunion.  However, when the women arrive, they quickly devolve into bickering and sniping.  Desperate to find a way to keep the peace, Aline invites Merry to several of their events.  At one of them, one of the women die under suspicious circumstances.  Merry can’t help but begin to gather information, but when a newcomer tries to use the crime to get Merry’s father removed as the official town Santa, she steps up her game.  Can she figure out what happened before the women leave town?

As a lover of all things Christmas, I was thrilled to be able to visit Merry and the town of Rudolph again.  While set at Thanksgiving, the book perfectly captures that late fall feel and the Thanksgiving spirit while also working in Christmas.  We get to know the suspects and the victim a bit before she dies.  While the victim and murder method might not be too surprising, there are some secrets and twists buried in the book that kept me reading, and the sub-plot involving Merry’s dad also drew me in.  I was a bit worried when we met all the suspects at once, but we get enough context early on to keep them straight until they develop as more characters.  It was great to see the series regulars again as well.  Whether you read this book now or save it for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’re sure to enjoy it.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Mulberry Mischief by Sharon Farrow (Berry Basket Mysteries #4) – 5
It’s the week before Halloween in Oriole Point, Michigan, yet the town is focusing on health thanks to the Haunted Halloween Harvest Health Fair.  The Saturday the festival opens, Marlee Jacob, owner of the Berry Basket, is cornered by Leticia the Lake Lady.  Leticia is one of the odd characters who call the town home.  She is ranting about the shadow people who have come to town and demanding that Marlee order mulberries so Leticia can use their protective properties to cover her cabin.  Marlee thinks Leticia is harmless if a little off, but that’s before a dead body turns up.  Will the latest happenings disrupt the health fair?

Picking up this book, I knew I was in for another fantastic ride, and I wasn’t disappointed.  While it takes a couple chapters for the body to drop, we are meeting characters who will become important to the story and trying to make sense of some puzzling things that start to happen.  The pace doesn’t slow at all once the murder takes place, and the revelations are only beginning as Marlee pieces things together.  The suspects are all strong, and I could have believed any of them were guilty until Marlee pieced together the final clues.  Of course, the series regulars are as fun and charming as always – I love them!  I’m not quite ready for fall, but this book still put me in the Halloween spirit.  We get four berry inspired recipes – two featuring Mulberries and two berry inspired Halloween treats.  I really can’t recommend this series highly enough.  New fans will be hooked, and existing fans will love Marlee’s latest adventure.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Haunted House Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross – 4
This collection of three novellas focuses on Halloween.  The book opens with the title story featuring Leslie Meier’s protagonist Lucy Stone.  A couple has moved into the old abandoned house in town, but they are rebuffing efforts from Lucy and others to welcome them to town.  Then strange things start happening and rumors start flying.  What is happening?  Up next is “Death by Haunted House” by Lee Hollis which takes up back to 2009 and shows us what life was like for Hayley Powell while she was married.  When the house next door, which is rumored to be haunted, gets a new family, Hayley’s husband Danny is certain that they are up to something.  The discovery of a dead body in the nearby woods just confirms his theory – at least to himself.  Is he right?  Finally comes “Hallowed Out” from Barbara Ross.  The local Haunted House tour is gearing up for Halloween, trying to bring some more people to town in the fall.  However, when a reenactment of a crime leaves an actor dead, Julia Snowden must figure out what happened.

As you might expect in a collection of stories by various authors, some are stronger than others.  Personally, I found the opening story to be the weakest – I think it might have worked as a short story, but even as a novella is was too long.  The middle story was better, with some fun scenes and a good twist to the mystery.  I adore Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mysteries, so it was the reason I picked up the book.  It also means I found the third story to be the best, with some good twists and a very fun sub-plot.  While each story has plenty of fall atmosphere, these stories aren’t that spooky – they are by cozy mystery authors after all.  Still, fans of these authors will enjoy picking up the book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

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