Wednesday, October 30, 2019

October 2019's Monthly Reading Summary

Yes, I'm a little early this month, but today was looking like the best day to post my monthly reading summary, so here it is.

I may be early, but the index has been updated.

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

Finding Zelda by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Zelda Bowen #1) – 5
We first meet the Bowen family at Easter as Zelda and her two sisters, Norma and Bea, are arguing over who will wear the bunny costume that year for the kids.  Normally, that is something their father would do, but he has vanished without a word to anyone.  Even though the three women are grown, two of them with families of their own, his absence has repercussions in all of their lives and in their family overall.  As the year progresses, how will they deal with what happened?

I was excited to see this novel come out.  It started life as four short stories in a series called Holidays from Hell.  Those stories, plus some additional scenes to help fill in the gaps, make up the first half of the novel, and I was anxious to find out what happened to Zelda.  I wasn’t disappointed.  While author Sue Ann Jaffarian is best known for her mystery novels, this isn’t a mystery.  Instead, it’s a dysfunctional family dramedy.  And yes, there are scenes that will make you laugh and scenes that will make you feel for the characters and what they are going through, especially Zelda.  As our main characters, she is the most sympathetic, but all the characters have their moments as the book unfolds and all of them are great.  This book definitely falls into the PG-13 realm with a smattering of foul language and some scenes that discuss characters’ sex lives.  I could have done without those elements, but they are worth noting only in passing.  Despite the fact that the book takes place roughly over the course of a year, we get a clear plot and only the scenes we need for the story.  While originally conceived as a standalone novel, we are going to get more of Zelda’s adventures.  I’m not sure where things can go from here, but I’m looking forward to visiting her again.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

“O” is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #15) – 5
PI Kinsey Millhone is surprised to get a phone call from a guy claiming he found some of her stuff in an abandoned storage locker.  Most of it is old school papers she left behind when she moved out on Mickey, her first ex-husband.  But among those things is some mail – it’s mostly junk, but she finds a letter to her in the stack.  Reading the letter shocks Kinsey.  It sheds new light on her marriage to Mickey and the events that led to her leaving him fourteen years before.  As Kinsey begins to hunt for Mickey to learn exactly what happened, she also begins to look into the murder that lead to her leaving Mickey.  Will she learn the truth about what happened all those years ago?

I wasn’t burning with desire to learn about Kinsey’s first marriage, but that changes pretty quickly when I started this book.  We are given the information we need from that time to understand what is happening in an interesting way that doesn’t slow things down.  The past and present are meeting, and both drive the story forward.  I was hooked until we reached the climax, which expertly wrapped everything up.  The characters spring from the page fully formed the instant we meet them, which is nothing new for this series.  We spend the most time with Kinsey, however, and she is a strong lead.  I enjoyed seeing how these events impacted her.  Fans of the series will enjoy seeing the background, and if you are new to the series, this book will show you why it has been so popular for so many years.

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #1) – 5
Meet Charlie Thorne.  She is highly intelligent, a great athlete – and twelve-years-old.  She is attending college, if you can call only showing up on test days to be attending college, just biding her time until she is legally an adult.  Until the day the CIA shows up and strong arms her into helping them on a mission of critical importance.  It is believed that Albert Einstein developed an equation in the 1930’s that rivals his theory of relativity in importance, but he hid it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.  While people all over the world have been looking for it for decades, the race to find it has heated up, with the fate of the world potentially in the balance.  Because Charlie is so smart, they think she can more easily decode the clues that Einstein left behind.  Will Charlie be able to follow the clues to find it?

I was excited to dive into a new series from middle grade author Stuart Gibbs.  It takes a little time to set up the characters and the story in the first half, but the second half is packed with action.  When I got here, it was nearly impossible to put down.  The main characters got some nice character growth over the course of the book.  The rest of the characters aren’t quite as sharp, but they are developed enough to keep us engaged in the book.  This doesn’t have quite as much humor as some of Stuart Gibbs’s other books, although I did laugh some.  The more serious tone is reflected in the more serious nature of the story.  There isn’t anything that isn’t appropriate for the intended audience, but there is more violence off the page than in his previous books.  Only the most sensitive kids will be bothered by what happens here, however.  The ending of this book will leave you ready for Charlie’s next adventure.  I know I’m anxious for it.

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry (Kate Hamilton Mysteries #2) – 4
Kate Hamilton has traveled to the small village of Long Barston in England.  Her daughter, Christine, is spending her semester break working at Finchley Hall as one of several college aged interns who work on the premises, and Kate can visit Christine and her new friend Tom Mallory, a policeman she met in Scotland and is falling for, before heading back home to Ohio to spend Christmas with her mother.  On her first day, Kate is taking a tour of Finchley Hall.  The guide is talking about the murders that have taken place on the estate when a scream interrupts her.  Kate and several others run to find one of the interns dead.  The police are quick to label it murder.  With Tom on the case, it is cutting into the time Kate thought they would have together.  But she can’t help but worry.  Is Christine in danger since she is an intern?

I’ve just teased the first couple of chapters, so things obviously get off to a fast start.  However, the pace is uneven, especially early on in the story.  I know part of that is me since Kate loves England much more than I do, and her wonder at spending time there didn’t translate to me.  However, there is a good mystery here, with some decent twists and surprises.  The climax is page turning and perfect logical.  The characters are absolutely wonderful.  We have a rather large cast, but I never had any issue keeping everyone and their relationship to the events unfolding around Kate straight.  While the book is set in December, there is so much going on we don’t get lots of scenes directly related to Christmas, although I certainly enjoyed the references to the season we did see.  This book isn’t quite as strong as the first one, but I’m glad I read it.  This is a series that anyone who loves the British Isles needs to pick up today.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #4) – 3
This fall, Lindsey’s friend Violet La Rue is directing a local theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she is encouraging everyone to try out for it.  Lindsey is more interested in working behind the scenes on the costumes, but many of her friends land parts in the play.  The one non-community member cast is Violet’s friend, Robbie Vine, a celebrated actor.  He brings with him his wife and his girlfriend, but he still is immediately smitten with Lindsey, and he starts flirting with her, which does nothing but irritate Sully, Lindsey’s ex.  However, Lindsey’s romantic troubles aren’t the biggest issue on the stage.  Instead, a series of increasingly more serious accidents seem to be happening in the theater.  Is someone out to destroy the production?  Is any one person the target?  Will Lindsey get to the bottom of things before someone dies?

Since I’m behind on this series, I knew that Lindsey was going to have some serious issues with her love life, and that is the case here.  In fact, it feels more like the focus of the book with the mystery being a sub-plot.  I’m a guy, so I don’t tend to read romances, and I stir clear of many romantic comedies because they aren’t my thing.  The romantic comedy aspect of this book certainly bothered me.  While there are some mysterious occurrences, it wasn’t really until the second half when the mystery really got going and even then, is often overshadowed by the romance.  There is a good twist to the mystery, however.  And I adore the series characters.  We get to see a different side of a couple of them and finally spend some time getting to know Violet.  On the other hand, the suspects were rather weak.  I’ve read enough of author Jenn McKinlay’s books to know this is a blip from an author I usually adore.  If you are a fan of her books, you’ll still want to see what happens here.  If you are new to her books, you’ll be better served starting with a different book and coming back to this one later.  Personally, I am looking forward to visiting Lindsey again soon.

The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet – 5
Katy is a caboose, but she doesn’t like traveling at all.  She longs for peace and quiet and a stationary life.  Then she is presented with the joys of her current life.  Will she realize her dream?  Will she enjoy life until then?

I hadn’t read this picture book for years until I picked it up recently, and I was immediately struck by the moral of the story.  It’s complex, about enjoying your life while you dream of something else, so kids might not fully grasp it, but that doesn’t make it any less good.  Of course, kids are mostly going to be interested in the story and pictures.  As with all Bill Peet’s books, the pictures are detailed and colorful.  The story, told in rhyme, will keep kids’ attention as well although the vocabulary might be a bit too complex for those just learning to read to read on their own.

Over the course of the book, we get a well-researched look at the sitcom Friends and the impact it has had on the US and the world in the 25 years since it premiered.  We learn about how the creators met and came up with the show, the path the actors took before they landed on the show, and some of the bumps and growing pains that everyone experienced during the 10 years the show was on the air.  There is also talk about the impact the show has had on fashion, trends, and overall pop culture the world over.

Author Kelsey Miller starts out by talking about her own connection to the show, and at various times in the book she talks about how she gained insight into the show (and vice versa) while talking to her real-life friends about it.  As I said, the book is well-researched, but that is part of the problem – it has too much research, rehashing stories we can find elsewhere with little new insights from the cast and crew.  I did find her commentary on a few episodes and arcs to be interesting.  I had already thought of some of her comments myself, and the rest make perfect sense to me.  My biggest issue with the book is the way she works modern social issues into a look at a comedy from 25 years ago.  Now, I’m not saying that the issues on the show aren’t worth talking about.  This is the only part of the book where she did her any original research, reaching out to people to get reactions to the show’s handing of diversity, etc.  However, her experts all seem to be of the opinion that it would be nice if the show had done a better job, but that was TV in the day, and it is a funny comedy that wasn’t trying to push an agenda.  It is clear she wasn’t happy these people didn’t agree with her more since she obvious thinks these are major issues in the show.  She even spends much of the last chapter talking about the lawsuit a writer’s assistant brought for a hostile work environment and speculating how it would have been handled in the current environment.  These complaints aside, I found the book very readable, and when I picked it up, I was hooked.  I was even choking up as I read about the taping of the final episodes.  This would probably appeal most to die hard Friends fans, but most of the material here they probably already know.

Wicked Harvest by Karen MacInerney (Dewberry Farm #6) – 3
The town of Buttercup, Texas, has decided to host an Oktoberfest event this year.  Naturally, farmer Lucy Resnick will have a booth selling wares from her farm, but the kickoff event is at the Sweetwater Brewery, and Lucy is going to be there as just a guest.  The brewery is planning to reveal a new recipe at the event, but that reveal doesn’t quite go as planned.  However, things take an even worse turn a little while later when Lucy and her boyfriend, Tobias, start to take a brewery tour and instead find a dead body.  It is pretty obvious that it was murder, but who did it?

Not only do we have the murder, but we have several sub-plots, so this book is constantly moving and kept my attention the entire time.  Things come together for a logical and satisfying conclusion.  This series has always had a bit of a paranormal element to it, but it is much stronger here, and I felt the book was a bit weaker since it relied on that more to drive the plot.  There’s also a major editing issue, with a scene with Lucy going over clues with a friend before she’s received them.  The characters are wonderful as always.  Since this is a quick read, we didn’t get a lot of new character development, but I still enjoyed the time with them I had, and the suspects are strong enough to keep us guessing.  There are six recipes at the end that sound delicious, too.  Fans of the series will enjoy this latest outing.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder’s No Votive Confidence by Christin Brecher (Nantucket Candle Maker Mystery #1) – 4
This Memorial Day Weekend is going to be busy for Stella Wright.  Not only is it the start of tourist season for her native Nantucket Island, but, thanks to her best friend, she has landed a job providing candles for a wedding taking place over the weekend.  This job includes a large and elaborate unity candle, but before the couple can walk down the aisle, Stella finds the candle broken next to the body of the bride’s estranged uncle.  When the police are quick to arrest a local bartender, Stella is certain they have the wrong suspect.  Can she use the fact that she’s helping with the wedding to find the killer?

I didn’t get as much reading time as I am used to when I picked up this book, but I felt like the book started off a little slowly.  That might just be me, however.  Things definitely picked up in the second third of the book, and I was impressed with some of the twists we got as we neared the super fun climax.  The characters really grew on me, especially Stella.  There are hints we might be in for a love triangle, but I think it is clear who Stella’s love interest should be, and I really liked him, too.  The suspects are good characters and strong as suspects.  I felt the island could have come to life a bit more, but again, that might have been my lack of reading time to fully immerse myself into the story.  Overall, I enjoyed this debut and I’m definitely planning to visit Stella again.

Death of a Gigolo by Laura Levine (Jaine Austen Mysteries #17) – 5
Freeland writer Jaine Austen has landed a new job, this time for Bel Air heiress Daisy Kincaid.  Daisy hires Jaine to write a romance novel entitled Fifty Shades of Turquoise.  Jaine is working at Daisy’s house each day, so she is there for the arrival of Tommy, a young man who quickly worms his way into Daisy’s heart while alienating everyone else in Daisy’s life.  To everyone’s horror, it isn’t long before the two announce their engagement.  But when Tommy is murdered the day before the wedding, Jaine finds herself trying to figure out what really happened.  Can she do it?

Yes, there are some strong sub-plots as well.  Jaine is back with an ex.  Will the romance bloom this time?  Or will Jaine’s cat, Prozac, derail everything.  Meanwhile, in a series of e-mails, we learn about the latest saga her parents are going through.  All I will tell you is it involves a bad haircut and a sculpting class.

Those familiar with the series know what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed.  Yes, the murder takes place a little late in the book, but the time isn’t wasted as everything is set up.  Once Tommy dies, we are off to the races with plenty of twists and turns.  Meanwhile, the two sub-plots weave in and out perfectly.  There are tons of laughs along the way as all the stories build to their climaxes.  The characters are more caricatures, but they fit this book perfectly.  More realistic characters wouldn’t work here.  Author Laura Levine used to write sitcoms, and that really is the best way to look at this book – as if your favorite sitcom characters were involved in a murder mystery.  The result is light, fun, and delightful.  So next time you need to smile, pick up this book.

“Nogged Off” by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #4.5)
This story finds Julia Snowden taking a quick day trip to New York City to pack up the rest of her belongings so she can permanently move to Maine.  When she arrives, she finds her sub-tenant to be upset about some setbacks in her personal life, and Julia winds up inviting Imogen home for Christmas.  However, Julia’s Christmas gets more complicated when her moving truck is stolen after they arrive in Busman’s Harbor.  What is going on?

I love this series, and I enjoyed getting to visit Julia at Christmas.  I was able to get fully lost in this story right away since I already know the series characters and the setting.  The plot was fun with some good twists before we reached the end.  Barbara Ross includes some fun Christmas traditions that are unique to Maine without slowing down the story, and they give us that all important Christmas feeling.  There are a couple of recipes at the end of the story, as always, to enjoy during the holiday season.

NOTE: This story is a novella, roughly 100 pages, and was originally part of the novella collection Eggnog Murder.  If you have that book, there is no need to buy this ebook.  If you haven’t read the story, now is the time to sit back and enjoy this Christmas trip to Maine.

Murder Cuts the Mustard by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina #3) – 4
Walmsley Parva is facing yet another murder.  It’s now June of 1921, and the body of Hector Lomax has been found in the graveyard.  Hector was not a well-liked or respected man in town, and that holds true for Simpkins, Edwina’s elderly gardener.  Simpkins was Hector’s brother-in-law, and they shared a house, so naturally, he becomes a suspect in Hector’s death.  However, that isn’t the only surprise the day has in store for Simpkins and, by extension, Edwina and Beryl.  It quickly becomes clear the pair of friends need to get to the bottom of what is happening for their own sake as well as that of Simpkins.  Can they do it?

I love this duo.  Edwina and Beryl complement each other perfectly, and with the book’s excellent use of limited third person, we get to know both of them.  The growth in them continues here as well.  The rest of the cast is just as strong.  I did feel the plot got a little sidetracked in the middle, but I was always entertained and the book ramps up again for a logical climax.  Since the story is set in 1921, we get an interesting look at the changes that were going on in the larger society at the time.  I had never given these changes much thought, but I enjoy seeing how the characters are reacting to them.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you really should.  If you are already a fan, you’ll love our third visit with Beryl and Edwina.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Apple Cider Slaying by Julie Anne Lindsey (Cider Shop Mysteries #1) – 3
The apple orchard that Winnie Montgomery calls home, along with her Granny, is having financial issues, and she is looking for ideas to save it.  The idea she is most excited about is turning a barn on the property into a cider shop.  She just needs a loan from the bank to be able to do the renovations.  However, the meeting with the loan officers doesn’t turn out well when they find the body of Nadine during their tour of the facilities.  The police are looking at Granny as their prime suspect since she and Nadine fought on a regular basis.  With Granny’s freedom and the fate of the family orchard on the line, can Winnie figure out what really happened?

I always pick up the debut in a new series with hopes for a great read.  I had more of a mixed reaction to this book.  The plot was uneven, with what should have been sub-plots taking over for pages at a time and leaving me wondering when we’d get back to the mystery.  The mystery was driven more by events than Winnie uncovering clues, but those events did draw me into the book, especially since I had come to care for the characters.  I loved Winnie, Granny, and the rest of the cast.  This was really driven home to me in the second half when an event made me gasp and read a little longer than I had intended that day.  The timeline was fuzzy, which always bugs me.  However, the book is set during the beginning of the Christmas season, and I loved how that season added to the coziness of the book.  The four recipes at the end sound delicious, and yes, one of them is for cider.  Julie Anne Lindsey also writes under the names Jacqueline Frost and Bree Baker, and I know she has a large fan base under all of those names.  While I find this book uneven, I think this fantastic case of new characters will draw in many readers to this series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

1 comment:

  1. You always seem to read decent reads at least.... that's something. :-) The amount is great too! Happy November!