Monday, January 4, 2021

December 2020's Reading Summary

Welcome to 2021!  We've made it to the new year.  But I'm going to spend today looking back at what I read in December of 2020.

The Index has been updated, and all all links take you to my full review.

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

Murder in Season by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #52) – 4

Jessica Fletcher is looking forward to spending Christmas in her fully restored house, including a visit from nephew Grady and his family.  The final work needing to be done on her house is a new septic system.  When the workers start digging, they find human remains.  It is quickly determined that one of the bodies is centuries old, but the other is much more recent.  The investigation looks like it ties into the founders of Cabot Cove.  What secret might the founders have been hiding that is worth killing for today?  Meanwhile, in a bit of horribly bad timing, a tabloid TV reporter is in town to do a story about the high murder rate in Cabot Cove.  What complications will that produce in the investigation?

Next to the Cabot Cove episodes of the TV show, the episodes with Grady were always my favorite, so I was thrilled to get to spend time with him here.  Some of the other regulars seem a bit off to me, but that’s been how I’ve felt with the last few books, the only books in the series I’ve read.  The mystery was good.  I do struggle at times to get into mysteries that are set years before the characters we are reading about, but this book did a good job of tying the past into modern activity to make me care about the outcome.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but it does answer our questions.  The Christmas scenes were wonderful and put me in the mood for the holiday.  This is a Christmas treat for fans of the series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller #2, Harry Bosch #14)

After a year off from law, Mickey is ready to come back, but he gets more than he bargained for when a friend is killed and Mickey takes over his cases.  One of those cases is a huge murder trial starting in just a week.  Can Mickey handle this high profile case?  Why was his predecessor murdered?

I really should have come back to this series sooner.  The characters are outstanding and the plot was complex and twisty.  I was glued to the story and will definitely be searching out the sequel.

November 2020 Update:

Now that I'm going through and reading all of Michael Connelly's books in order, I reread this one.  It is interesting seeing Harry through Mickey's eyes as the two meet for the first time.  It also explains why it took me a bit to warm up to Harry Bosch.  He's a bit of a jerk in this book.  Still, I enjoyed it again.


Christmas Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #26) – 2

There is a stranger in Lake Eden, and no one knows who he is – including the man himself.  Hannah and her mother find him one day mostly starved, and get him to the hospital.  When he is revived, he doesn’t remember his name, but asks to be called Joe Smith instead of John Doe.  Hannah makes it her mission to find out who he really is.  Can she help him recover his memory?

This book takes us back in time to the early days of the series, and it is fun to see some of those relationships knowing what has happened to the characters since then.  The plot is definitely different for a cozy, but I liked it for the variety.  Unfortunately, the plot is drowned out by talk of food.  I skimmed parts of the book, and I didn’t miss any part of the plot.  The plot does get stronger as the book goes along, and I liked the way the story finished.  This series always has an abundance of recipes, and this book is no exception with twenty new treats to try, including seven cupcakes.  If you are a fan of the series and set your expectations accordingly, you’ll be fine.  But otherwise, there is no need to read this book.


A Whisker of a Doubt by Cate Conte (Cat Café Mysteries #4) – 4

Maddie James and her friend Katrina have learned about a colony of feral cats near one of the richest neighborhoods on Daybreak Island, so they are working to take care of it.  However, the neighbors are resistant to their efforts, going out of their way to be a pain.  Just a couple of days before Christmas, Maddie finds the body of one of them, Virgil Proust, outside his house.  Virgil and his wife were some of the loudest people fighting against the cats and Maddie’s efforts to feed them.  When the police focus on Katrina as their prime suspect, Maddie knows it is up to her to find the truth.  Can she do it?

I’ve been waiting impatiently for this book due to the cliffhanger the previous book left us with.  I was thrilled to get back to Maddie and find out what happened there.  Even if you haven’t read the books that came before this one, you’ll still be able to jump in here and follow along.  I will say that Maddie’s attitude in this sub-plot bothered me a bit at times, although I always understood where she was coming from.  The main mystery is good with a few nice surprises on our way to the solution.  The suspects could have been stronger, and I struggled at times to remember all of their relationships, but I was still invested in the story.  The regular characters are strong and charming, as are the cats at the cat café where Maddie works.  The Christmas setting adds an extra level of cozy.  Fans new and old will enjoy this festive entry in the series.


The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #28) – 4

This year at Christmas, the churches in Caerphilly, Virginia have started a Helping Hands for the Holidays charity event, and Meg is right in the thick of it, organizing and helping.  One of their projects is helping Harvey the Hoarder declutter and fix up his house before the county is called to intervene.  Day one goes pretty well, but when Meg shows up for the second day, she finds him lying in a pool of blood in the garage.  Are the rumors of a treasure hidden in the house true?  Did that get Harvey killed?

I always enjoy visiting Meg, and this book was no exception.  The sub-plots involving her large family slow down the main mystery early on, but as a fan of the series and the characters, that’s a minor complaint.  Once the mystery gets going, it is strong with several good suspects and twists before we reach the great climax.  The sub-plots still weave in and out of the main mystery, and I really enjoyed them and the Christmas spirit they give us.  I didn’t find this book quite as funny as some of the others, maybe because it left me contemplating which side of the hoarder or collector line I’m on.  If you are looking for an entertaining mystery set at Christmas, there’s still time this year to cozy up to the fire and enjoy this mystery.


Unlocked by Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8.5) – 5

This is an unusual release.  The first 500 pages are a guide to the world of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, with character information, info on animals, background on the races, and a few fun activities.  The last 250 pages are a “novella” (it is short for this series) and picks up where Legacy, the previous book in the series, left off.  It’s not just filler, but it contains lots of plot developments that fans will be glad they read.  It splits time between Sophie, the main character, and Keefe, one of her friends who is going through quite a bit here.

If you are new to the series, you really don’t want to start here.  Yes, I said guide, but it comes with lots of spoilers for the first eight books in the series.  Back up and start at the beginning; it’s worth it.  This is more a love letter to fans.  If you are a fan, you’ll definitely enjoy the information contained in this book.  And the novella will leave you satisfied.  It feels like a complete story and made me laugh and cry.  Yes, there is another cliffhanger, so now begins the wait for book 9.


Gone but Knot Forgotten by Mary Marks (Quilting Mysteries #3) – 4

Martha Rose is saddened to learn of the death of her childhood friend, Harriet Oliver, and even more surprised to find that she has been named executor of her estate since she and Harriet haven’t spoken in years.  Harriet’s death has been ruled natural causes, but Martha has lots of questions about the circumstances of her death.  That only grows when she realizes that several items are missing from Harriet’s collection.  Is there more to her death than it appears?

The mystery certainly intrigued me, and it moved forward at a steady pace.  I did feel the ending was a bit abrupt, but it was suspenseful and answered all of our questions.  The characters are wonderful.  Martha’s quilting friends are fun, and her love life gets some interesting developments here.  Quilting does factor into the mystery in a unique way, and I really enjoyed that.  While the book is set during December, it isn’t a Christmas book.  There’s a very good reason for it – Martha is Jewish, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about Jewish culture as I read.  It’s easy to see why so many people enjoy this series; I’m glad I finally started it.


“A Christmas Mourning” by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries Short Story) – 5

Claire Weatherly is going to enjoy a rare day off with her aunt Diane, and the two are going to play tourist, visiting the Amish sites that are open for tours.  When Claire mentions this to Jakob Fisher, her new boyfriend, he tells her a story about a Christmas years ago.  Raised by a local Amish family, Jakob actually attended school in the one room school house Claire and Diane will be visiting.  The last year he was there, he took a fancy Christmas spoon his mother owned to show off to his friends, and it got lost.  Claire decides to see if she can figure out what happened to it.  But can it be recovered all these years later?

I’ve been meaning to read this short story at Christmas one year, and I’m glad I finally made the time.  While the events of the past are set around Christmas, the contemporary part is not set during the season, which was a surprise that I got over quickly.  The story was perfect for a short story; it kept me engaged without being overly complex.  The ending made me tear up, but in a good way.  We don’t see all of the characters, but it was wonderful to check in with those who were part of the story.  It took me just under an hour to read, so if you want to read it this year, there is still time to slip it in before the holiday.


Death at a Country Mansion by Louise R. Innes (Daisy Thorne Mysteries #1) – 4

Dame Serena Levante was a world-renowned opera singer.  She’s also the mother of Daisy Thorne’s best friend, Floria, so when news comes that Serena is dead, Daisy rushes to Serena’s mansion outside of the English village of Edgemead.  The police quickly see that it was murder, and they believe that robbery was involved since an expensive painting is also missing from the mansion.  Daisy owns the local hair salon, and it is a hub of gossip.  As a result, she begins to hear things that might help the police in their quest to find out what happened.  Can she get the gruff inspector to listen to her?

I wasn’t planning to read this book until I started hearing great things about it, and I’m glad I picked it up.  The mystery starts out right away, and we have plenty of twists and turns.  The climax wraps everything up neatly for us.  Serena was the kind of woman who left behind many suspects, something I always enjoy.  We don’t get to know all the suspects super well, but because we like Daisy and Floria, we care about the outcome.  We meet some other regulars, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with all of the cast.  There are a few things that could have been smoothed out better, including a timeline issue, but they are minor overall.  The book is shorter than many today, but there wasn’t a wasted scene.  Overall, this is an enjoyable debut, and I’m looking forward to visiting Daisy again soon.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Wedding Bear Blues by Meg Macy (Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries #4) – 4

Sasha Silverman and her sister Maddie are involved in the Valentine’s weekend wedding of a local friend.  However, between the demands the bride is making and the fact the wedding party doesn’t get along, it is turning out to be anything but fun.  Still, Sasha wasn’t expecting one of the members of the wedding party to turn up dead at the rehearsal dinner.  When her bridesmaid duties suddenly include finding the real killer, can she figure out what happened?

Because we meet the members of the bridal party in a couple of group scenes, I had trouble keeping them all straight early on, but as the book progressed, I found it easier to remember their relationships.  The plot is strong, with some nice red herrings that kept me confused until we reached the climax.  Helping things out are some fun sub-plots, although one of them stretched credibility a bit too far for me.  I’ll believe that Sasha can solve the murder but not how this sub-plot played out.  I think that may be on me.  We do get updates on Sasha’s larger group of family and friends, but they mostly stay in the background, which helps us get to know the suspects better.  This is a wonderful winter time cozy, so snuggle in with a blanket and your favorite hot beverage and enjoy.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Wicked Yarn by Emmie Caldwell (Craft Fair Knitters Mysteries #1) – 4

After the loss of her husband, Lia Geiger moves to a new town in Pennsylvania and starts selling things she and her knitting friends make at a local craft fair run by her best friend, Belinda.  She’s expecting to sell lots of items over Mother’s Day weekend, and Saturday is great.  But when she arrives on Sunday, she finds Belinda standing over the dead body of Belinda’s ex-husband, a developer who just the day before was planning to buy the barn where the craft fair is held and tear it down.  With attendance at the craft fair dropping and Belinda everyone’s prime suspect, Lia jumps in to clear her friend.  Can she do it?

While I don’t normally read crafting themed cozies, I’m glad I picked up this debut because I enjoyed it.  The mystery is strong with several viable suspects, and it kept me guessing until the end.  I did struggle with Lia’s relationship with Belinda.  Even given what she is going through, I had a hard time believe that Lia and Belinda are best friends.  However, there are plenty of other characters to love here, including Lia’s new neighbors and her young adult daughter.  I enjoyed spending time with them.  I’m looking forward to visiting Lia again when the next book in the series comes out.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Absence of Alice by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #9) – 5

Sarah Winston is happily preparing a garage sale for her latest client, Alice Krandle, when she gets a phone call claiming to be from someone who has kidnapped Sarah’s landlady and friend, Stella.  With clear instructions not to contact the police, she sets out to find Stella while also following the kidnapper’s strange demands.  Can she find her friend in time?

Yes, this book is part thriller, but it is still part cozy as well.  The balance truly works.  The twists and turns kept me glued to the page.  Because of the plot, the book is a bit darker than a typical cozy, but it is just a shade or two darker.  One reason this book still feels cozy is the locations and characters we love are front and center.  How this plot impacts the characters and their relationships is realistic and does a great job of building on what we’ve seen in previous books.  There are discussions of some of the Sarah’s other cases, and they are vague enough to avoid most spoilers, but I still recommend reading the books in order.  If you aren’t already a fan, you’ll be hooked in no time.  And those who already know and love Sarah will be thrilled with her latest adventure.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.


  1. Sorry to see Joanna Fluke's book wasn't a big hit with you. I am keen to read that series, it looks fun! Happy New Year!

  2. It looks like you had a great December of reading, Mark. I am glad you enjoyed Death at a Country Mansion. I have been eyeing that one. I hope you have a great January in books!

  3. Thank you for your in depth reviews. I'm adding more books to my TBR list based upon your recommendations, and adding Sherry Harris's Garage Sale mysteries as a new to me series to binge.