Monday, February 3, 2020

January 2020's Monthly Reading Summary

2020 is flying by.  Can you believe we are a month into the near year already?  It doesn't seem possible to me, but here we are.

And yes, I finally got the Index updated!  I even added a couple of new categories, one of which is seven months overdue.

Meanwhile, here's what I read this month.

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

Script for Scandal by Renee Patrick (Lillian Frost and Edith Head #3) – 5
In 1936, a bank robbery took place in Los Angeles.  While the robbers were killed, the money was never found, and rumors have circulated that there was someone else involved.  Most suspect that the someone else was LAPD Detective Gene Morrow, the boyfriend of Lillian Frost.  While the rumors have mostly died down, they are about to come out again in 1939 thanks to a new movie being filmed at Paramount.  Costume designer Edith Head has seen the script, and she gets a copy to her friend Lillian so she and Gene can be prepared.  Lillian is more concerned than Gene and actively tries to find out who the writer is claiming is his source for this movie.  She hasn’t been looking for too long before someone turns up dead.  Can Lillian and Edith figure out what happened back then and how it is impacting what is happening today?

I was so happy when this series found a new home because I enjoyed the first two books so much.  This book is just as strong.  The authors mix real people with the fictional characters so expertly I am sure I missed some of the cameos.  Yet everyone comes across as real.  I did think the plot was wandering a bit early on, but everything became an important part of the story before it was over.  Not that I was complaining since I was hooked for most of the book and couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out.  Both Edith and Lillian are instrumental to solving the crime in the end.  Meanwhile, there is a delightful subplot involving Lillian’s boss preparing for a job as an extra that leads to a hilarious scene.  This book brings old Hollywood to life in every detail, and I enjoyed every minute spent in that world.  This book will delight Edith and Lillian’s fans and win them new ones.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #10) – 5
In the spring of 1897, New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has been given permission by NYPD Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to focus solely on solving Dr. Tom Brandt’s murder.  However, since people are expecting Teddy Roosevelt to be called to Washington to serve in the new administration at any moment, Malloy knows he must act quickly to solve the case.  He has three good suspects and a description of the murder weapon, but he is facing the fact that Tom died over four years ago.  He can’t establish alibis, and the killer might have gotten rid of the weapon over the years.  He’ll only have one shot at confronting the suspects as well since his best weapon is the element of surprise.  Can he gather enough evidence to get the killer to confess?  Will Sarah Brandt, Tom’s widow and Frank’s friend, be happy with what Frank learns along the way?

Dr. Brandt’s murder has been an ongoing storyline since the first book, so I was happy to finally see it solved.  Ironically, Sarah doesn’t play an active part in solving it, but she is still an active part of the book as she reacts to what Frank is learning and her scenes are just as compelling.  We get to see a different side of several characters, including Frank’s new sleuthing partner, but Sarah gets the most development, which only makes sense.  We have three viewpoint characters over the course of the book, but the changes are always easy to follow.  The plot is strong and kept me confused until we reached the satisfying ending.  It did seem a bit repetitive early on, but that was a minor issue overall.  If you are new to the series, you could jump in here without missing too much since everything you need to know is explained.  As always, I felt like I was in 1897 with the little details and character’s attitudes acting like a time machine.  I’m curious to see how the series will progress without this storyline an active part of things, but I am satisfied with how this storyline was wrapped up.

Buyer, Beware by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #2) – 5
Samantha Kidd is excited about another fashion store opening up in her hometown of Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  She and some friends attend the opening night party, but the party ends abruptly when Samantha stumbles on the body of a dead woman in the handbag department.  The woman was the store’s handbag buyer, and the police quickly rule it a murder.  Then Samantha gets another shock – the store’s owner asks Samantha to take over the dead woman’s job and use her position to help figure out what happened.  But is Samantha putting herself in danger by taking a dead woman’s job?

I might not normally have picked up this book because of the fashion theme, but I already knew that author Diane Vallere can craft a great cozy mystery.  Yes, fashion is certainly an aspect of the book, and even plays into the plot, but it never overwhelmed the story or bored me since the book never loses sight of the fact that it is a mystery first and foremost.  And what a mystery!  The suspects are all outstanding and do a great job of misleading us.  Samantha has to deal with twists and red herrings galore until she finally figures things out.  I did feel a few of the details could have been smoothed into the story better, but that’s a minor complaint overall.  I enjoyed this book and need to make time to visit with Samantha again soon.

The Silent Second by Adam Walker Phillips (Chuck Restic #1) – 4
Chuck Restic has spent twenty years in HR, and he’s good at his job – making sure employees get along so they don’t sue each other or, more importantly, the company.  That’s how he first meets Ed, who has had a complaint filed against him.  Ed seems like a nice guy, and their meeting goes well, but then Ed disappears a couple of days later.  A plea from Ed’s family to figure out what happened to him intrigues Chuck.  He’s recently separated from his wife, and he wants to do something to fill his time away from work, so he uses his boredom as an excuse to start poking around.  The trail quickly leads to real estate around Los Angeles, but how could that have led to Ed’s disappearance?

I’d seen the author speak at a library event a while ago, and I thought this book sounded like fun.  While I certainly enjoyed it, I found the book to be darker in tone than I was expecting.  There were a few laughs when Chuck was in HR mode, but for the most part, this felt more like a hard-boiled book.  But that’s my only complaint with the book.  I really did like Chuck – in fact, I could identify with him a bit too much.  (Maybe that was part of my problem.)  The rest of the cast are just as strong and become well-rounded people as we learn most about them.  The plot was great with plenty of twists and an ending I didn’t see coming.  The book was light on foul language and didn’t get too graphic with the violence or sex, which I most definitely appreciated.  This is a solid debut, but pick it up when you are in the mood for something on the darker side.

“P” is for Peril by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #16) – 3
Nine weeks ago, Dr. Dowan Purcell vanished without a trace.  Now, his ex-wife, Fiona, has hired PI Kinsey Millhone to figure out what happened to him.  Kinsey isn’t sure she can cover any ground that the police haven’t already covered because they have been as thorough as they can be, but she gamely agrees anyway.  Soon, she is caught in a web of speculation.  It seems everyone has a theory, from Fiona to Dr. Purcell’s current wife, Crystal, to family and friends.  But can Kinsey find any clue to figure out what actually happened to him?

The mystery starts well as always, and I was soon caught up in the case.  There is a very strong sub-plot that helped draw me further into the story.  I love Kinsey and the other regulars, so it is always fun to spend time with them, and the new characters are just as strong.  Even the weather, a cold November rain, helped add the right atmosphere to the book.  Then I got to the ending.  The book just stops.  It’s very abrupt.  While I have a theory on what happened and why, it would have been nice to have it confirmed, especially since I can come up with another equally as compelling theory on what happened and why.  These kinds of endings work for literary novels, but are frustrating for mystery readers.  Fans of the series will still be glad they read this entry, but new readers definitely shouldn’t jump in here since there are stronger books in the series.

The Downtown Desperadoes by Sigmund Brouwer (Accidental Detectives #13) – 5
It all starts with a phone call.  Ricky Kidd is confused by the strange message, and he is certain it is a prank, expect for the fact that the voice sounds familiar.  It’s a couple of hours later when he recognizes it as Brother Phillip, the man who had helped him track down his younger brother when Joel was kidnapped during the class trip to New York City back in the spring.  When his father tries to find out what is happening with Brother Phillip, he discovers the mission the man run has burned down, and the police believe that Brother Phillip died in the fire.  The only problem is, the fire took place before the phone call.  Ricky is able to convince his family and friends, Ralphy and Mike, to change their Thanksgiving plans and go to the city, but when they arrive, things only get weirder.  Did they really know Brother Phillip?  Is he in danger?  Or is he a criminal?

Unlike many middle grade mysteries, this one is a direct sequel to an earlier book.  To completely understand the events that happen here, it is best to have already read LOST BENEATH MANHATTAN.  But if you haven’t read that one yet, there is enough context here to follow the events as they unfold.  And what a plot!  While I remembered a few key things, like the climax, I was still caught up in the twists and turns.  This book is a master class is dropping clues into a story, and I still marvel at how Mr. Brouwer does it.  The characters are developed enough to make us care, but they are a bit on the thin side.  The adult in me notices that, but as I’m reading I don’t care.  The book was originally written for the Christian market, but the Christian elements aren’t overwhelming here.  These stories were originally released in the 1990’s, so a few references are dated, but it isn’t enough to ruin the story in the slightest.  This book is still as strong now as when I first read it.  Readers of all ages will be thrilled they picked it up.

Careless Whiskers by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #12) – 5
This spring, Athena College’s theater department is debuting a new play from a local playwright.  Charlie Harris is looking forward to it since his daughter, Laura, is going to star in it, and her husband, Frank, is the director.  While most of the cast and crew are college students, the college is bringing in a big name for Laura’s co-lead – Luke Lombardi.  Unfortunately, he is arrogant, rude, and demanding.  And those are his good qualities.  Soon he is irritating many people in town.  He is also the victim of some pranks, but when things turn deadly, Laura finds herself in the spotlight as a suspect.  Charlie has sworn off sleuthing after a recent close call, but with Laura’s reputation and freedom on the line, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, begin searching for the real killer.  Will they be able to clear Laura?

Fans are in for another great ride with this book.  As if often the case, the murder takes place later in the book, but the time it put to good use introducing us to suspects, motives, and red herrings.  I was never bored, and kept turning pages until Charlie figured everything out.  All the characters we love are here, both two legged and four legged, and they are a delight as usual.  The suspects are strong as well.  I continue to enjoy watching how the police are portrayed in this series as smart and competent.  This book will please Charlie and Diesel’s many fans and even earn them new ones.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Statue of Limitations by Kate Collins (Goddess of Green St. #1) – 4
Athena Spencer has had to move back to live with her family in Michigan after her divorce.  That means dealing with her large, crazy Greek family on a daily basis since she and her young son are living with them and she is working at the family’s garden center.  It also means she is on hand when her grandparent’s Greek restaurant is threatened by the powerful Talbot family.  They intend to raze an entire block of shops to put in condos.  The fact that a murder takes place in their home, two weeks after another suspicious death, doesn’t seem to be slowing their plans down at all.  The police are focusing their attention on a stranger in town, but Athena thinks they have the wrong suspect.  Can she solve the murder and save her grandparent’s restaurant?

As I was starting this book, I was thinking I was going to have problems with it.  Athena’s family likes to spend their time meddling in her life, something that I find annoying.  Honestly, the family needs more development quickly because I still found them annoying at the end.  I also questioned just why Athena was going to such extremes to help a stranger.  But I kept reading, and as I kept reading, I got more and more hooked on the story.  Yes, there is a lot here, and in lesser hands, it might have gone very wrong.  Here, it worked.  There was always something going on to keep me engaged.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but it did wrap everything up nicely.  This is a light book, but if that is what you are looking for, you’ll be delighted.  Kate Collins’s many fans will be very happy.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Buried to the Brim by Jenn McKinlay (Hat Shop Mysteries #6) – 5
Cousins Scarlett and Viv have an unusual new client for their hat shop.  Betty Wentworth, Scarlett’s fiancé Harrison’s aunt, is about to enter a dog show with her dog, Freddy, and she is hoping that a top hat will launch him from second place to first place this year.  At first Viv, who designs the hats, is reluctant, but soon she is on board, and everyone is delighted with the results.  However, the contest weekend gets off to a rocky start during the cocktail party that kicks things off when Betty gets into an argument with Gerry Swendson, the owner of the dog food company that sponsors the show.  The next morning, Freddy is the one to find Gerry’s very dead body.  With the police looking at Betty, Scarlett begins digging in, trying to figure out who else had motive.  It quickly becomes apparent that this dog show is far from cute.  But who committed murder?

It’s been a couple of years since the last book in this series came out, and it was wonderful to catch up with these old friends.  Some time has passed for them as well, but the relationships were as great as ever.  We saw plenty of the supporting characters and I loved every minute of it.  The mystery was just as strong, with plenty of suspects and a fantastic ending.  I did find one thing near the climax pushed me out of the book and I didn’t remember a few instances of very mild swearing in earlier books, but both are worth noting only in passing.  The running gags involving puns were always one of my favorite things in the series, and it is as delightful as ever here.  And the dogs!  There are some very cute moments with the dogs here.  Fans of the series will be delighted to get to revisit these characters.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Murder on the Half Shell by Shawn Reilly Simmons (Red Carpet Catering Mysteries #2) – 4
Penelope Sutherland and her catering crew are working on a period mystery filming on an island in Florida.  Penelope has hired a few locals to help out, including two teen girls who work part time as servers.  After a party one Friday night, the teens disappear.  Suspicion falls on Emilio, one of the chefs that Penelope studied under at culinary school.  Penelope doesn’t want to believe her old teacher is guilty, but there is something in his past that makes Penelope doubt her judgement.  Where are the girls?  Who is responsible for what is going on?

It’s been a few years since I read the first in this series, and I didn’t remember who everyone was.  Sadly, this book assumes you remember the relationships, and it took me longer than it should have to figure out those connections.  The characters are good, but they don’t feel fully developed to me.  I was pulled into the plot, however, with the missing teens making it easy to care about the outcome.  There are plenty of twists and turns, and the climax was satisfying.  Being able to visit a beach location during the winter was a great treat, and I found the balance of the mystery with the slower life of the island was well done.  This is a quick read, and I enjoyed it.

1 comment:

  1. All decent reads it seems, and a great start to the year! Happy February!