Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June 2020's Monthly Reading Summary

We are half way done with the year.  Normally, I talk about how fast the year is going, but in this case, it feels like it is moving very, very slowly.

Anyway, it's time to look at what I read in June.  Here's the list, and the index has been updated as well.

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

Up Next, Murder by Erin Huss (Podcasting Sisters Mysteries #2) – 5
Step-sisters Liv and Camry are ready to tackle the second season of their hit podcast, Missing or Murdered?  This time, they are looking at the case of some remains that were recently found in their home base of Santa Maria, California.  Brinkley Douglas disappeared one night while walking home from her boyfriend’s house, and Joel Zander has always been the number one suspect in everyone’s minds.  Now that her body has been found, the case is heating up again.  Liv is keeping an open mind, especially since she isn’t sure Joel is guilty.  But why won’t he talk to her?  Can Liv figure out what happened?

I enjoyed the first book in this series, and I’m thrilled to say the follow up was just as much fun.  The case is compelling.  I was drawn in right away, and I needed to know what was going to happen next.  Fortunately, the climax wraps everything up well.  The characters are great, from Liv and Camry to their friends and family.  Brinkley’s family members and the suspects are real enough to draw us into the story.  My issues from the first book – the romantic sub-plot and one character’s stutter – are still present, although they are minor annoyances.  And I can’t leave out the fun; this book made me smile and laugh even as the tension increased.  I do recommend reading the first book first, but you’ll be anxious for this one before you know it.

Sprinkles of Suspicion by Kim Davis (Cupcake Catering Mysteries #1) – 4
When Emory discovers that her husband, Philip, is having an affair with her best friend, Tori, Emory naturally gets very angry and gets into a very public fight with Tori.  That creates a problem, however, when Emory finds Tori’s very dead body just a few hours later.  Naturally, the police consider Emory their best suspect, so Emory sets out to give them other suspects.  As she tries to clear her name, is she prepared for the secrets she will uncover?

Between the Orange County, California, setting and the culinary cozy hook, I couldn’t pass this book up.  As always, I enjoyed seeing the action taking place in areas I recognized even if I don’t know them super well.  This book works in many ways like a TV pilot, readjusting Emory’s life as well as giving us a murder to solve.  The murder got overshadowed a bit at times, but I always found the book compelling to read.  There are several good surprises and twists to the mystery.  The ending was a little weak, but it does answer all of our questions.  I certainly sympathized with Emory since she comes across as very trusting, something that creates problems when your life becomes a mystery.  I did feel her family was a little too self-absorbed.  I’m sure it was supposed to be funny, but I found it more annoying.  The 11 recipes at the end include some Western themed dishes as well as a couple of delicious sounding cupcakes.  All told, this is a fun series debut that will leave you wondering just where cupcakes and murder will take Emory next.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Fake Truth by Lee Goldberg (Ian Ludlow #3) – 2
Writer Ian Ludlow is stuck.  Despite his most recent exploits as an off the books CIA agent, he can’t come up with anything worthy of his next book.  So when his CIA partner, Margo French, throws a newspaper at him, he picks a couple of articles at random and they begin to investigate as if Ian’s writer’s imagination was right and there is a connection between them.  The scary thing is, they might have stumbled upon something that way, with tentacles that spread from Russia to the US-Mexico border with the news media in between.  But what exactly have they found?

I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series, but this one was a disappointment.  While we see the various threads involved in this plot early on, the story still moves too slowly for the first half.  Once it does start, we get plenty of action and a great climax.  Since this is a loving spoof of the spy genre, I definitely enjoyed some laughs.  The characters can be a bit thin, but that’s part of the genre.  Unfortunately, so is sex, and there are several sex scenes I really could have done without.  The author stages his story in such a way that very thinly disguises his politics, which really pulled me out of the story.  I pick up fiction to escape politics, not to have one point of view shoved down my throat.  I realize both of the things that bothered me might be selling points to others, but to me, they kept me from fully enjoying the book.  I enjoyed the first two books in this series (and the books should be read in order since this one has some spoilers for previous adventures), so hopefully the series will be back to entertaining for the next in the series.

City Spies by James Ponti (City Spies #1) – 5
Sara Martinez is in jail after hacking into New York’s juvenile justice system to turn in her foster parents.  She gets the surprise of her life when her lawyer turns out to be a man called Mother, who reveals himself to be a British spy.  He whisks Sara away to Scotland where she joins a secret team of MI6 made up of other kids like herself.  Sara has joined them just weeks before their next mission – infiltrating an ecological conference to stop a group that is out to sabotage it.  Will Sara be far enough along in her training to be an asset to her team?  Will they succeed in their mission?

I saw this new series debut recommended by another author I love, and I’m so glad I did.  This middle grade book is fast paced.  We get plenty of set up, but everything is introduced as part of the story, so it never slows things down.  Once the mission begins, the pace picks up even more, and I couldn’t put the book down.  Some of the elements are a little over the top, but I just reminded myself this is a spy story and got right back into the book.  We don’t get to know all the characters well yet, but we definitely saw some growth in Sara and a few others, and what we saw of them is great.  There are some truly heartwarming moments as well as moments that made me laugh.  This is a fantastic middle grade book for readers of all ages.

Guaranteed to Bleed by Julie Mulhern (Country Club Murders #2) – 5
Ellison Russel is spending this particular Friday night in September 1974 at a high school football game.  Not because she loves the sport, but because her daughter, Grace, is a cheerleader.  Unfortunately, early in the second half, she stumbles on Bobby Lowell who begs Ellison “Tell her I love her” before he dies.  Bobby and Grace grew up together, so the murder hits close to home.  Ellison isn’t trying to solve things, but she can’t help but figure it out as she tries to figure out who the mysterious woman is.  Will she pass on Bobby’s message?  Will she find the killer?

I’m glad I was finally able to return to Ellison’s world.  The story is strong.  It doesn’t unfold in typical cozy mystery fashion, but that didn’t bother me.  I got more and more involved the further into the book I got.  Ellison is a great main character, and I loved watching the growth in the character here.  The rest of the cast is also great, although I wish her Mother weren’t so focused on everything being perfect.  I find it funny at times, but it can be annoying.  The book walks a fine line between humor and more serious themes, and the result is rich.  The book does venture into some PG-13 topics, but know that going into the book and you’ll be fine since it never gets too graphic.  I do recommend reading book one before you read this one since it includes fallout from the events of that story.  Hopefully, it won’t be so long before I visit Ellison again.

Murder on Lexington Avenue by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #12) – 5
New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is called to a murder scene at a business office on a Saturday afternoon.  Frank quickly learns that the man has a deaf daughter and is heavily involved with one of the deaf schools in the area.  Frank’s son is deaf as well, so he already has some knowledge of the schools, but he quickly begins to learn more about the deaf community as he investigates.  He also realizes that he must bring in midwife Sarah Brandt.  Sarah’s involvement turns out to be a good thing since she can get close to the victim’s family.  Will she learn enough so that the two of them can solve the case?

Frank gets involved in this case pretty quickly, although Sarah’s involvement takes a little longer to develop.  Still, the duo once again make a fantastic team as they work together well to solve the case.  Along the way, we get plenty of suspects and twists.  I was sure I had it figured out several times before we reached the end.  We do get some updates on Frank and Sarah’s families, including something that I think will jump start a new longer mystery arc.  I also appreciated how this book explored the deaf community in the 1890’s.  You really could jump in here, but whether you start this series here or go back to the beginning, you’ll be pulled back in time with these excellent books.

The 20th Victim by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #20) – 4
Getting fast food turns out to be fatal for one man who is taken out by a sniper as he is leaving the drive through on morning.  His wife in the seat next to him is left physically unharmed.  It’s a perfect sniper shot.  While Lindsay gets the case as part of her job as a San Francisco homicide detective, reporter Cindy gets a key clue.  Someone wrote “Rehearsal” in the dust of the car’s back window.  The question is, rehearsal for what?  Meanwhile, Claire has some scary news of her own to deal with, and Yuki has to prosecute the case of a teenage getaway driver who won’t flip on the real criminals.  Even Lindsay’s husband, Joe, has a case of his own when his college roommate thinks his father was murdered.

The book has one plot too many (and a repetitive one at that), and it would have been better served to eliminate that plot since the climax was rushed on all the stories but especially the main one.  Still, the multiple stories kept thing moving as always, and I had a hard time putting the book down when I sat down to read.  The characters are just developed enough for us to care, but could use more depth.  This is a common issue with the series, and those who have kept up with the books know the characters well enough to care for them.  In other words, this is a typical James Patterson thriller.  If you are a fan, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Billy Boyle by James R. Benn (Billy Boyle #1) – 4
Summer of 1942 finds Billy Boyle traveling to England to begin working for his distant uncle, Dwight Eisenhower, as a investigator during World War II.  Billy had just become a detective for the Boston PD before the war hit American shores, and Billy isn’t sure he is up to the task.  However, he has to jump in immediate when he is asked to help find a spy that might impede Operation Jupiter, the plans to invade Norway and drive out the Germans.  His investigation is only hampered when a Norwegian official dies under mysterious circumstances.  Is Billy now looking for a killer and a spy?

I’ve heard about this series several times over the years, but it was a friend recommending it to me recently that pushed me to finally start the series.  I’m glad I did.  I’ve always loved World War II, and I already learned something I didn’t know about it thanks to this book.  The author has obviously done his research; unfortunately, sometimes that slows down the story.  I’m torn on that because I did love the characters, and I loved seeing how everything from this time was impacting them.  Most of the characters are fictional, but they feel like they could be real.  Billy was especially wonderful, and I hope we see more of several of the characters as the series progresses.  While not a cozy, the book does keep the language and violence to a minimum, which I appreciated.  I also loved Billy’s restraint with the women he met – I found that very refreshing.  The tone mixes some humor with more serious themes for a richer book.  Now that I’ve met Billy, I have a long way to go to catch up, and I’m looking forward to the journey.

The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor – 4
In 1993, Maggie D’Arcy’s cousin Erin vanished while living in Ireland.  Maggie went over for a couple of months trying to figure out what happened, but the mystery was never solved.  It did have a profound impact on her life since after returning home, Maggie become a cop herself on Long Island.  Now, another young woman has vanished.  In the search for her, a skeleton has been found, and buried with the skeleton is Erin’s scarf.  Has Erin been found after all these years?  Where is the new woman who has vanished?  Are the cases connected?

It’s been years since Sarah Stewart Taylor released a book, but I was thrilled to pick up something from her again.  I’d forgotten just how atmospheric her writing is, but I was soon back under her spell.  The pacing was off near the beginning since Maggie doesn’t have any jurisdiction in Ireland, but eventually she found a way into the case and we started getting the twists that lead us to the climax.  The book takes place in 1993, the present, and even further in the past as Maggie and Erin are growing up.  All of these time periods are easy to follow.  They also allow us to see how characters have matured over the years, which I enjoyed.  This is Maggie’s story, and I couldn’t help but feel for her as the book progressed and the story unfolded.  The story also switches from past to present tense depending on which time period we are reading about.  It took my brain a bit of time to adjust to this, but I did rather quickly.  This is more serious than the cozies I often read, but if you keep that in mind, you’ll enjoy this book as well.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s Mysteries #7) – 5
Lindsay Norris has declared an overdue book amnesty day for the Briar Creek Public Library, but even she is surprised when a book that was checked out twenty years ago is returned.  Further research indicates that it was checked out by Candice Whitley on the day she was murdered – a crime that remains unsolved.  Why was this book returned now?  Will it help solve this cold case?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book as soon as I learned what it was.  I was rewarded with a well-executed mystery that provided clues and red herrings that kept me guessing until I reached the suspenseful climax.  The romantic triangle that has been going on for the last few books appears to have wrapped up here, but it looks like everyone will be staying in town, which I am very happy about since I just love these characters.  We got a few new regulars here, too, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.  This book included plenty of laughs and grins, so if you are looking for a light, fun murder mystery, this is the book to check out.

Nacho Average Murder by Maddie Day (Country Store Mysteries #7) – 3
Robbie Jordan is taking a well-deserved vacation and heading back to Santa Barbara for her high school reunion.  This is the first time she’s been back since her mother died, and it is definitely a struggle for her even before she hears a rumor that her mother might not have died from natural causes.  When someone else dies under similar circumstances, Robbie can’t help but investigate.  Will she learn the truth before she has to return home?

Vacation books can be tricky to pull off while satisfying fans.  Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite work.  I enjoyed seeing a different side of Robbie as she interacted with her old friends, and I did like the new characters.  However, I missed the series regulars.  The plot wasn’t as strong as it could have been, although things were wrapped up by the time we reached the end.  I enjoyed spotting the parallels between where Robbie stayed and her own place back in Indiana.  Instead of my normal breakfast food cravings while reading this book, I was left craving Mexican food, which I didn’t mind in the least.  The recipes at the end will help everyone with that.  As a fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries, I enjoyed the references to that series in this book.  If you are a fan of the Country Store Mysteries, you’ll still want to pick up this book.  But if you are new to the series, back up and read the earlier entries in the series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. You seem to average around the same books every month, good job!! Happy July!

  2. Great reviews, Mark! Thanks for sharing varied mystery titles for all ages!