Another month gone. Can you believe it is time for October's reading summary?
The index is up to date.
I've also been spending some time this month doing some behind the scenes work on the blog. The one thing I want to draw your attention to is the new category off on the life for First in Series. I'm still going through my old reviews and tagging the first in the series to add it to that category, so the number will grow a little more in November, and I'll be tagging all new first in series reviews with that tag going forward. So if you are looking for a new series to start, I hope you'll scroll through for some ideas.
But enough about that. Let's get to the main event, shall we? Here's what I read in October.
All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder, Edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, & Marcia Talley – 5
In the seventh short story anthology from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, each story revolves around an invitation. Some are the obvious invitations for events, but others are a more casual invitation. Either way, they lead to danger of some kind. There’s a mother whose young son is writing a hard-boiled mystery, an escape room that ends in death, a guest who overstays her welcome, bedbugs and murder in London, and a debutant ball in early 1900’s South Carolina. The stories are as varied as their locations, and many are fun. As with every short story collection, not every story will be for every taste. Personally, I found a couple of them too dark to be enjoyable. But the majority of the seventeen stories were a delight. If you are searching for bite sized stories, you’ll be glad you picked up this collection.
Cake Popped Off by Kim Davis (Cupcake Catering Mysteries #2) – 5
Emory Martinez is helping her employer, Tillie Skyler, host a Halloween party. Emory is providing the cupcakes, and Emory’s sister is doing the main catering. Everything is going well until Emory finds the dead body of Mandy, the cocktail waitress, in her bathtub. Emory’s brother-in-law was one of several people seen fighting with Mandy at the party, so to clear his name, Emory begins investigating. She quickly finds a web of blackmail, but how did that contribute to Mandy’s death?
The first book in the series spent some time setting up changes in Emory’s life, and they are paid off wonderfully here. We don’t get to see much of Tillie in the first book, but I loved her in this one. She and Emory make a great team, and Tillie is such a fun character. I had struggled with some of Emory’s relationships in the first book, but they were much more enjoyable here. The plot is strong with so much drama and action I never wanted to put the book down. I had a couple of niggles with the climax, but they were minor and all our questions were answered. Some future plot lines are introduced here, and I’m anxious to see how they play out. In addition to cupcake recipes, we get some delicious sounding recipes for Halloween party dishes and cocktails. Emory’s second case is a delight, and I’m anxious to join her again for her another mystery.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Nancy’s Mysterious Letter by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #8) – 4
Nancy Drew has received a letter from a law firm in London. They are trying to track down a Nancy Drew who has become an heiress in England. Obviously, she isn’t the intended recipient, but she sets out to find the woman with the same name. Meanwhile, she’s also trying to track down a mail thief who hit very close to home. Can she solve both cases?
With some of the other Nancy Drew books I’ve reread as an adult, I’ve complained about too many coincidences in the plot. That’s not the case here. Nancy may jump to a few wild but correct conclusions, but by the time we reach the end, everything has come together logically. Along the way, we get some great twists and turns that are tons of fun. The characters remain thin and there are a few dated references, but overall, this is a book that will keep the intended audience, middle graders, turning pages as quickly as they can to figure out exactly what is going on.
The Dogfather by Sparkle Abbey (Pampered Pets Mysteries #10) – 5
Mel Langston is surprised when her ex-fiance, Grey Donovan, asks to use her Bow Wow Boutique as a base for an undercover assignment. She reluctantly agrees, hoping they can get along at least until the surveillance is over. Then a murder takes place down the street at the high-end handbag store, and Grey becomes a suspect. Mel jumps in, hoping to clear him before his career with the FBI is ruined. Can she do it?
Fans of the series will be delighted with the latest entry. It has the usual assortment of characters, and I don’t just mean series regulars. The cast run from wacky to realistic, but somehow, they all fit into the world of these books, and they create plenty of laughs along the way. Yes, that includes Betty, Mel’s assistant, who walks the fine line of making us laugh without being annoying. The plot is good, with plenty of twists and suspects to keep us engaged. The ending does seem a bit rushed, but that’s a minor complaint. This appears to be the final book in the series, at least for now, and the authors do a great job of wrapping up ongoing storylines. This series isn’t for everyone, but if you want a light, wacky, and fun mystery, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.
Murder Goes to Market by Daisy Bateman (Claudia Simcoe #1) – 4
Claudia Simcoe has started her life again in the California coastal town of San Elmo Bay by opening a market where locals can sell their locally produced wares. Most of the offerings are food related, but she has learned that the bags and other items Lori Roth sells are just things she has bought over the internet. The morning after Claudia confronts Lori about this, she finds Lori’s dead body in the middle of the market. The police think Claudia is a great suspect, and they are keeping the market closed until they solve the case. With a double motive to learn the truth, Claudia begins her investigation. Can she figure out what really happened?
It took a bit of work to get into the book. The early chapters, while advancing the story, still fall a bit too much into exposition for me, and the third person narration kept me a little at bay. However, by the time I hit page 50, I was fully hooked. The mystery is complex with lots of puzzling things for Claudia to figure out, yet it all makes sense at the end. Claudia is a strong main character, and I enjoyed getting to know her. The rest of the cast still has some room to grow, but I did like what I saw here. Claudia can be sarcastic, and I loved that. Additionally, some lines in the narration made me laugh. I grew up in Sonoma County, the location of the fictional San Elmo Bay, and I really enjoyed spending time in a location I know in real life. This debut grew into a book I really enjoyed, and I can’t wait to visit the characters and location again.
“R” is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #18) – 4
The job sounds easy enough to private investigator Kinsey Millhone. She’s been hired to pick up Reba Lafferty when she is released early from a prison sentence for embezzling and help her adjust to normal society again. However, it isn’t long before Reba encounters people from her former life and Kinsey is approached by Federal agents who want to meet with Reba. As things spiral out of control, can Kinsey keep Reba safe and out of prison?
This book started out well, introducing us to Kinsey’s new assignment and the key players. But eventually, I noticed some things that bothered me. Kinsey was more reactive than active in this book, and Reba’s behavior made me cringe as well. The story was still strong enough to keep me engaged, but these things bothered me. I suspect it was on purpose, but the results didn’t work well for me. Romance is a strong factor in the book, with a couple sub-plots involving romances for series regulars. I actually enjoyed that part since it gave us a chance to get to know these regulars better, and I hope we see more from this growth as the series continues. While not the strongest entry in the series, there is definitely still enough here to recommend the book.
Hard Cold Winter by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #2) – 4
Van Shaw has just returned to Seattle from his time in the Army Rangers when Willard, one of his grandfather’s friends, asks for a favor. Willard is concerned about his niece, who went to her boyfriend’s cabin and hasn’t been heard from since. Van goes out there and discovers a grisly scene. It looks like a murder suicide, but Van begins to investigate anyway. He soon finds himself facing more danger than he bargained for. Will his Ranger training keep him alive? Or are the forces at work too great for him?
After enjoying the first book in the series, I was anxious to revisit Van. He was just as great a character this time around, and I enjoyed watching him grow a bit and interact with the characters, both old and new. The plot just continues to build until we reach the satisfying and explosive climax. The series is darker than I normally enjoy, and that did bother me a little, but that is completely on me. I do appreciate how Van’s past, both before the Army and as a Ranger, is worked into the story, and the light it shines on the struggles vets face when they return to civilian life. I will be picking up the third book soon.
Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien (Noodle Shop Mysteries #2) – 5
A new souvenir shop has opened next to Ho-Lee Noodles, the restaurant that Lana Lee’s parents own and where she works. Over the last few weeks, Lana has become friends with Isabelle, one half of the newlyweds who own the new store. That makes it person when Isabelle and Brandon, her husband, are found murdered in the back of their store one morning. Despite warnings to stay out of the investigation, Lana begins to poke around. Can she figure out what happened?
Too many books got in the way of me returning to this series sooner, but I’m glad I was able to revisit the characters. The plot is strong, with plenty of secrets and suspects that kept me guessing until the very end. Lana is a relatable, sympathetic heroine, and I really like her friends as well. There is some room for growth in her relationships with her family, and I hope that happens as the series progresses. There are some spoilers for the first book in the series here, so if you are interested in the series, I definitely recommend you read them in order. I’m glad I got to return to Ho-Lee Noodles, and I hope it isn’t so long before I move on to book three.
Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd (Jolene Jackson #1) – 2
Jolene Jackson hates to return to her hometown of Kickapoo, Texas, but when her mother, Lucille, is brought in for questioning after the mayor is murdered, Jolene heads down to help out. Lucille is obviously hiding something from the sheriff, who also happens to be Jolene’s high school sweetheart. When it becomes obvious that Lucille’s life is in danger, Jolene jumps in to figure things out. Can she do it?
I discovered recently that I bought this book twice, physical and ebook. Clearly, I was interested in reading it. Sadly, it disappointed. The mystery confuses action with unraveling a mystery, so I got a little frustrated in the middle of the book. Even so, I was interested in the action the entire way through. While the main characters are good, the supporting cast is thin. What is supposed to come across as humorous instead comes across as condescending toward those that Jolene doesn’t agree with. Add in some characters who come across as purposefully stereotypical and a few needless political comments and I struggled at times. I’m disappointed I didn’t enjoy this book more.
The Timeless One by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #4) – 5
Fort Fitzgerald is home for the first time in months, separated from all the new friends he’s made. He, Rachel, and Jia have one year to re-find Excalibur and train to fight the Timeless One. Meanwhile, Fort also has a baby dragon he not only has to try to hide from his guardians but also from someone who has been sent to find it.
That’s all I am going to tease for fear of spoiling something from this book or previous books. Don’t start here if you are new to the series since there will be spoilers for some of the twists from earlier books in this one. But fans of the series will enjoy it. I found the post-apocalyptic feeling I had reading the previous book wasn’t as strong in this one. The story is engaging with twists and turns, but there was more humor, with I enjoyed. The characters are as sharp as ever, although Fort spends a bit more time here away from the other series regulars. This book walks the fine line between setting up the next (and final in the series) without leaving us disappointed in this part of the saga, and it does it perfectly. There is definitely a climax to this book, but the cliffhangers will leave other fans as anxious as I am to find out what happens to Fort next.
Murder Comes to Call by Jessica Ellicott (Beryl and Edwina #4) – 5
When Beryl Helliwell goes to court for reckless driving, she meets Declan O’Shea, an Irish immigrant trying to start a life for himself in the English village of Walmsley Parva. However, being Irish, he is viewed with suspicion, and the string of thefts happening in the village only make things worse. When the police start to question him about the thefts, he hires Beryl and Edwina Davenport to clear his name. The stakes are only raised when a dead body turns up at the scene of the latest burglary. Couple that with another client who needs his case solved right away, and Edwina and Beryl have their work cut out of them. Can they figure out what is really happening?
While this is the fourth book in the series, you could easily jump in here. You would miss out on the growth in the characters and their relationships, which is definitely part of the charm of the series. Plus these are just great characters to spend time with. Fans will be delighted to check in with these friends and catch up with the latest going on in their lives. The plot seemed to be a bit scattered early on, but I suspected that events would tie together, and my faith was rewarded. In fact, I was impressed with just how everything came together by the end. The setting, both location and historical, come to life well. We get a great feel for the impact of World War I on this village without it ever slowing things down. I was fully absorbed in another time and place as I read, and if you are looking for a great historical mystery, you will be, too.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door by Barbara Ross (Jane Darrowfield #2) – 5
Jane Darrowfield’s newest client is Megan Larsen, her next door neighbor. Megan is a single, mid-30s lawyer on track to become a partner in her firm. However, she begins to suspect that something might be wrong with her. She’s hearing voices and having blackouts among other symptoms. Either she’s going crazy, or someone is out to make her think she is. Jane quickly comes up with a diagnosis, but then something happens that makes Jane question everything she thought she knew. Is Megan in danger? Or is Jane really living next to a madwoman?
I enjoyed the first book in this creative cozy series, so I was anxious to visit with Jane again. I loved this second book just as much. The story is creative and easily fits outside the typical cozy storyline while still fitting perfectly in the cozy mystery genre. Just when I thought I had things figured out, something would happen that would confuse me again. Yet the details all fit together perfectly at the end. Jane is a strong main character. I don’t feel like her friends are well defined, but they don’t get much page time, so that isn’t an issue. Megan is a very sympathetic character, which makes us care for her. The rest of the characters we meet along the way are great as well. This isn’t as funny as the first book in the series, but that’s not a complaint. The subject matter is more serious, and I thought this book perfectly handled that. If you are looking for a slightly different cozy mystery, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
NOTE 2: Like the first in the series, this is a Barnes and Nobel exclusive for the first year, and only available as a physical book from them until late in 2021.
“Pumpkin Pied” by Karen MacInerney – 5
Natalie Barnes has a rare few days off at her bed and breakfast, her only guest being her college roommate Lucy Resnick. The timing is perfect since the annual Cranberry Island Harvest Festival is about to start. However, rumors are swirling that the area is haunted, and Natalie and Lucy witness a few weird things themselves. What is going on?
As a fan, it was fun to pop in to visit these characters in this October set short story. The plot was good and entertaining. It perfectly kept my attention for this short read. This is a short story that took me under an hour to read. Fans of the author will recognize Lucy as the star of her own series, and I enjoyed seeing her first appearance here as well as visiting the residents of Cranberry Island. Throw in a couple of delicious sounding pumpkin recipes, and you’ve got a festive winner.
The Mysterious Visitor by Julie Campbell (Trixie Belden #4) – 5
The Bob-Whites grow in number as they add neighbor Diana Lynch to the mix. She's unhappy because of her uncle. He's just shown up after being missing for years, and Diana is sure something is off. Could he be an impostor? A good mystery and the characters are still at their best. Another great read in a series I love.