Here it is the end of August already. Must be time for my reading summary for the month. No update to the index this month. Too much else going on and my computer is acting up.
The links will take you to my full review.
All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bower (Royal Spyness #14) – 4
It’s fall 1935, and Lady Georgiana O’Mara is back from her honeymoon and settling into her new married life until Darcy is called away on another of his assignments. Suddenly at loose ends, Georgie jumps at a chance to join her friend Belinda is looking at the cottage she just inherited in Cornwall. However, the cottage turns out to be more of a shack. The friends are deciding what to do when they run into Rose, a childhood friend of Belinda’s. Rose announces she is now the mistress of one of the nearby mansions, and insists that Georgie and Belinda stay with her. However, something is off about life at the mansion. Will Georgie figure out what is going on before tragedy strikes?
It's always fun to slip back into Georgie’s world, and I picked up this book with anticipation. As usual, the book opens with updates on Georgie’s various friends and family, and I enjoy finding out how life is going for them. Once the story gets going, we are treated to a mystery filled with confusing happenings and plenty of atmosphere. The plot is minimally inspired by the classic Rebecca, and it uses the gothic elements well. I’m not familiar with Rebecca, but not picking up on nods to that book didn’t diminish my enjoyment at all. The new characters we meet along the way help pull us into the book. Naturally, everything makes sense once Georgie figures it all out. When you pick up this book, be prepared to be swept back in time. Fans of the series will be thrilled to catch up with Georgie’s latest adventures.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Killer Chardonnay by Kate Lansing (Colorado Wine Mysteries #1) – 5
Parker Valentine’s dream is coming true today with the opening of Vino Valentine in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. However, her joy turns to worry when renowned local food and wine blogger Gaskel Brown shows up. He is notoriously hard to please, and his blog can make or break local restaurants. After sampling her chardonnay, Gaskel dies, and the police are quick to label it poison. Everyone is blaming Parker for the crime, and no one is coming to her store for fear they will be next. In order to save her dream, she has to find the killer. Can she do it?
Since I don’t drink wine, I almost passed on this debut, but I’m glad I picked it up. The book starts quickly, introducing us to characters while also setting the murder in motion. The pace continues to be strong with plenty of secrets and motives before we reach the climax, where everything fell into place. All the characters were also fantastic, with some good growth thanks to the subplots. The book is written in first person present tense, which is a bit unusual, but I quickly got used to it as I read. There are a handful of four-letter words, but they are worth noting mostly in passing. If the food descriptions make your mouth water, you’ll welcome the three recipes and wine pairings at the end. This book was aged to perfection, and I’m already looking forward to Parker’s next case.
The Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette (Key West Food Critic Mysteries #10) – 4
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is proving to be very busy for Hayley Snow. In addition to her regular food related articles for local magazine Key Zest, she is also covering the key lime pie contest, which is filled with more tension than Hayley expected. Meanwhile, her new husband, cop Nathan Bransford, is working overtime due to all the visitors on the island for the holiday. So when Nathan’s mother decides to come visit, Hayley finds herself playing hostess for a woman she’s never met before. Even worse, the pair stumble upon one of the pie contestants dead. Has the contest turned deadly? Or is there another motive for murder?
I’m always happy to escape to Key West via the pages of this series, although after reading this I may skip the New Year’s time period when I get to visit in real life. It sounded a little too crowded for me. Still, I loved getting to catch up with the characters, who are always a delight. We got to know one of the regulars much better here, which I really appreciated. The mystery itself could have been stronger, although we did have some good suspects and I was engaged and kept guessing until the end. Plan ahead before you pick up this book – I had to buy a key lime pie I was craving it so much. There isn’t a recipe for the pie at the end (we’ve gotten one in an earlier book), although one of the eight recipes is for a delicious sounding key lime parfait. This is another pleasant trip to Key West that will please the series’ fans.
NOTE: I received and ARC of this book.
Murder on Sisters’ Row by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #13) – 5
Midwife Sarah Brandt’s latest client is a woman in an elegant house. However, over the course of her labor, Amy reveals that she is being held against her will by a madam. Sarah enlists some others to help her free Amy and her baby only for someone to turn up dead. With Frank Malloy assigned to the case, the duo finds themselves investigating another intriguing mystery. Can they figure out what happened?
While the book delves into a serious subject, it does it without forcing the details on us, something I appreciated as I read. Instead it does an excellent job of bringing life in 1890’s New York City to life once again and shining the light on another part of society during the time. I love Sarah, Frank, and the rest of the gang. While all the characters shine, there isn’t any movement in the ongoing storylines, so you could jump in here without being too lost. The new characters represent a wide part of society, and they are all brought to life well. The plot kept me engaged. I was a step or two ahead of Sarah and Frank at times, at others I was heading in the wrong direction. Everything comes together for a page turning climax. I’m doing my best to catch up on this series. If you are as behind as I am, you’ll be delighted with this entry in the series.
The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan – 4
Rachel North is a non-traditional law student at 36, but she plans to join her husband, Jack Kirkland, in his practice as of one Boston’s premier defense lawyers once she graduates. But first she has to survive a summer internship with ADA Martha Gardiner. To say that Jack and Martha hate each other is putting it mildly, but Rachel thinks it will a good opportunity for opposition research. When Martha takes a personal interest in Rachel, Rachel is flattered. But can she navigate the two lawyers now in her life? Or is she being played?
This book not only switches between the present and when Rachel first met Jack and Martha six years ago, but it also incorporates all three character’s viewpoints. Don’t worry, it all flows smoothly, and you can always tell who and when you are currently learning about. I will admit I had a bit of a different idea what a book called The Murder List might be about, but I quickly got hooked on the story being told here. This is a suspense novel, with plenty of twists and surprises along the way. My biggest struggle was the characters. This really is Rachel, Jack, and Martha’s story, and all three are deeply flawed. I found it hard to root for them at various points in the story; I usually like to have at least one character I can root for. Overall, I did enjoy this book and I’m glad I read it.
Bad News Travels Fast by Gar Anthony Haywood (Joe and Dottie Loudermilk #2) – 5
When Joe and Dottie Loudermilk sold everything to enjoy their retirement on the road, one advantage was that it would make it hard for their kids to drag them into difficult situations. However, when they arrive in Washington DC, Dottie arranges for them to have dinner with their son Eddie. The next morning, Eddie is arrested for killing his former roommate. The murder weapon is Eddie’s knife, and the victim was killed after Eddie had a very public fight with him. Despite all of this, Joe and Dottie believe Eddie when he claims to be innocent. But can they prove it?
I’m glad I got to revisit these characters this year because this was a delightful mystery. It was a fast read, but there wasn’t a wasted word as Joe and Dottie track down one lead after another. The twists and turns kept me engaged the entire way through. Joe’s temper is toned down a bit from the first book, and Dottie is a strong narrator of the events. The rest of the cast is just as sharp. While travel is a theme of the series, the little bit of sightseeing that Joe and Dottie do always also serves the plot. I could have done without the smattering of foul language scattered throughout the book, but that is worth nothing mainly in passing. Everything is mixed together with a dash of humor that I enjoyed. If you’ve missed this book, I’ve got great news – you’ll enjoy it.
The Red Trailer Mystery by Julie Campbell (Trixie Belden #2) – 5
Jim's run off, and it's up to Trixie and Honey to find him. But trailer thieves and a family on the run complicate things. A very fun book with great characters. And it includes one of my all time favorite scenes in the series, too.
Digging Up the Remains by Julia Henry (Garden Squad Mysteries #3) – 4
Fall has arrived in Goosebush, Massachusetts, and Lilly Jayne is busy with the two weekend fall festival. Kicking things off is a 10K through town. Lilly and her friends Delia and Roddy are making sure the path is clear before the race starts when the find the body of reporter Tyler Crane partially buried in a pile of leaves. Tyler hasn’t been in town long, but he’s made several people upset as he has dug to uncover family secrets. He was teasing new stories coming soon. Was one of those the reason he was murdered?
I really enjoyed getting to visit these characters again. Lilly leads a large and diverse cast of characters, and they are all charming. They are also distinct, so it is easy to keep them all straight. The book reintroduces us to the characters and town while introducing Tyler and the suspects. The pacing is a bit off early on, but the time is being put to good use as it sets up the mystery. Once Tyler is found dead, we are off with suspects as strong as the main characters and many secrets for Lilly and the others to uncover before we reach the climax. Meanwhile, we get some advancement in storylines introduced in earlier books. I suspect we’ve got some seeds that will bloom in future books here as well. I wish I could garden as well as the characters in this series, but I can dream while I read these fun mysteries.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Cat Me If You Can by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks #13) – 4
Charlie Harris, his fiancée, and his cat, Diesel, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina for a week of tourism and talking about favorite mystery authors with the members of the Athena Public Library mystery group. Unfortunately, an outside member has crashed the trip and picks a fight with several members. When he turns up dead the next morning, Charlie feels the obvious suspect couldn’t have done it. Can he figure out what really happened?
Pulling off a vacation mystery in a series can be tricky. In this case, it works well since we have several of the supporting players on the trip and we get updates from some of the others. Of course, the series really belongs to Charlie and Diesel, and we get plenty of both, but I was happy to see more of Helen Louise than usual, and I enjoyed spending time with the other regulars on the trip. Unfortunately, some of the suspects could have been stronger, but that didn’t stop me from getting involved in the mystery. As usual, the tension is high and the twists are plentiful. While the climax does answer all our questions, I felt a few lines made it more preachy than it needed to be. Still, this is a strong book that fans of the series will find hard to put down.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
What Happened at Midnight by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #10) – 4
Frank and Joe Hardy are shocked when they get the new request from their father, famed detective Fenton Hardy. He wants them to break into a house and steal something. Of course, it is to keep an invention for his client safe. However, doing that puts the boys on the radar of a gang of smugglers. Will they be able to protect the invention and round up the smugglers?
I remember as a kid the title really intriguing me. Yes, several scenes take place at midnight, but the title isn’t as relevant to the story as it might be. That hardly matters since the story is so action packed that it is hard to put it down. Coincidence rules quite a bit, and the characters are thin. Elements are also very dated today. So in other words, it’s a typical Hardy Boys book. Still, I take that into account when I pick up one of these books, and I enjoy the nostalgia I get from revisiting these old friends.
The Falcon Always Wings Twice by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #27) – 5
Meg Langslow is spending the summer at her grandmother’s craft center helping with the Renaissance Faire Cordelia is hosting on weekends as Cordelia’s second in command as well as doing blacksmithing demonstrations. Her husband, Michael, is in charge of the actors in “The Game,” which is the code for the improvised scenes he and the rest are doing during the day about who will inherit a fictional kingdom. They are mostly having fun with it, but Terence, one of the other actors, is making life difficult for everyone. Meg isn’t super surprised when he is found dead one morning, but as she goes about her day, she keeps picking up information related to the murder. Will she solve it?
This entry is the series at the top of its game. The murder may take place a little later than some books, but the time is well spent setting up the suspects and motives. I was hooked before the body dropped and happily followed the investigation after it happened. Everything is wrapped up in a climax that has us on the edge of our seats and makes us laugh. The characters are at their most charming – funny without being annoying. I laughed many times as the pages flew by. All the characters are great, and I found myself tearing up at some of the development we got thanks to some strong sub-plots. Since Meg is a blacksmith (not that we see her doing it much in the series), I’m surprised we haven’t been to a Renaissance Fair with her before, but this entry was well worth the wait.