Anyway, here is what I read in June. And the index is updated.
Links take you to the full review. All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #21) – 4
Frank and Sarah are upset to learn they can’t legally adopt Catherine, the little girl that Sarah has been caring for for several years, because, in the eyes of the law, Parnell Vaughn is her legal father. Fortunately, the actor is willing to sign his rights over to Frank and Sarah, but his fiancée wants some money from them. When Frank goes back to deliver the payment and get Parnell’s signature, he finds the actor dead in his dressing room. With Frank accused of the crime, he and Sarah have to clear his name. Who really murdered Parnell?
It's always a pleasure to pop back in on Sarah and Frank in 1899 New York City, and this book was no exception. I love the characters. As is often the case these days, we get parts of the story from four different points of view, and it is always easy to tell when we switch from one to the other. I did feel the plot wasn’t quite as good as usual for this series. There are a few twists and a strong climax, but it got bogged down in the middle. Still, fans will be happy to spend time with these characters we love. I know I did.
Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan – 3
Lily Atwood is living a charmed life. A TV reporter with awards and millions of fans by day, she is a devoted single mother to a charming seven-year-old daughter by night. Her fans think she has it all, and Lily works hard to project that. Things take a turn when her latest anonymous source starts feeding her secrets from her own life. Can Lily keep her perfect life?
The book started well, and I was quickly pulled in. The use of multiple narrators and a large chunk back in the past was easy to follow thanks to headings at the start of every chapter. However, as I got further into the book, I started to get more frustrated. A whiney character was annoying, and I felt like some of the book was driven by manufactured suspense. If the characters would just listen to each other, they’d get the answers they wanted. Having said that, one twist got a gasp out of me near the end. The ending was a bit of a letdown since it left me wondering what the point was. All told, this was a mixed bag.
Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron (Vintage Cookbook Mysteries #1) – 4
Ricki James-Diaz is looking to start over in New Orleans, and her interest in opening a vintage cookbook store is a perfect match for the Bon Vee Culinary House Museum. As she gets to know her new coworkers, she quickly realizes just how much of a grump Franklin Finbloch is. Still, the man isn’t fired until he is caught trying to steal from Ricki’s new gift shop. Then his body turns up in what Ricki thought was a trunk of books donated to Bon Vee. With the suspicion falling on people Ricki was beginning to consider friends, she jumps in to figure out what really happened. Will she solve the case?
As is often the case with a series debut, the beginning was a little slow as it set up the premise of the series and began introducing us to the characters. The ending was a bit abrupt, although everything that happened did follow logically from what came before. And what came before? It was wonderful, with plenty of twists to keep me engaged. The sub-plots helped as well. Ricki has quite the interesting background, and I appreciated how it was doled out as we needed it. Being a series debut, the potential series regulars also serve as suspects, and that made me care about the outcome that much more. Naturally, there are recipes at the end, but in a twist that fits this book, all six are from vintage cookbooks. This is a fun series debut. I’m already looking forward to revisiting Ricki again soon.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
The Navigator’s Daughter by Nancy Cole Silverman (Kat Lawsone Mysteries #1) – 4
When Kat Lawson’s father gets a letter from the DOD that someone has found the wreckage of his downed plane from World War II, he asks Kat to go to Hungary and take pictures of it for him and find out what happened to the people who rescued him. Since Kat’s personal life is in a state of flux, she agrees. What she finds when she gets there are people who are almost too willing to help her. Are they up to something? What will she learn about her father’s past?
This book takes place in 1996 and the setting just after Russia had left Hungary makes for an entertaining read. It allows us to get caught up in not only what happened to these characters during World War II, but also in the decades since. Honestly, if the book had stayed focused on that, I would have been completely satisfied with it. There is a crime fiction element, but it came across more as a sub-plot, and I felt it was a little forced into the book. However, it appears to be setting up future books in the series, and I will definitely be back for them. I enjoyed getting to know Kat and watching her grow as the book progressed. The other characters helped pull me into the story. This is a promising debut that I enjoyed.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
The Tuesday Night Survivors’ Club by Lynn Cahoon (Survivors’ Book Club Mysteries #1) – 4
After surviving cancer, Rarity Cole moves to Sedona, Arizona, and opens a bookstore. One of her ideas for connecting with the community is to start a book club for other cancer survivors. However, when Martha, one of the members, misses a meeting, Rarity becomes concerned. Can she and the other members figure out what happened to Martha?
I’ve been meaning to read one of Lynn Cahoon’s books for years, and I figured the start of a new series was a great time to do just that. Overall, I did enjoy the book. I did find the characters’ motivation for investigating the crime weak. On the other hand, I really liked the four main characters. The rest of the cast could be stronger, but that will come as the series progresses, right? I did find a few unfortunate errors in the book that should have been caught with good editing – a timeline issue and something setup that was dropped. I did get pulled into the plot. I pegged the killer a little early, but I didn’t have the motive figured out until Rarity put it together. I completely enjoyed the setting and I’m ready to go visit Sedona. The cancer survivor hook was good as well. I’ll definitely be back to visit these characters again.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Up to No Gouda by Linda Reilly (Grilled Cheese Mysteries #1) – 4
After losing her husband, Carly Hale has moved back to Balsam Dell, Vermont, and followed her dream by opening Carly’s Grilled Cheese Eatery. Her new business is threatened when the building it is in is bought by her high school boyfriend, Lyle Bagley. Lyle wants her to move out so he can turn it into a clothing boutique for his fiancée. The day after Lyle makes his announcement, he is found behind Carly’s restaurant. When her server becomes the prime suspect, Carly starts investigating. Can she figure out what really happened?
What lover of culinary cozies could resist a book featuring grilled cheese as the hook? Not me! I’m glad I picked it up. The cast is filled with some unique characters for a cozy mystery – or at least a slight twist on the normal characters we’d see, and I really enjoyed that. Carly herself is an entertaining and engaging lead character. The pacing was slow a few times, but overall, this was a solid mystery with plenty of suspects and a couple of nice twists on the way to a surprising conclusion. And yes, you’ll find three grilled cheese sandwich recipes at the end to satisfy your cravings. I will definitely be returning to find out what Carly gets up to next.
Island of Thieves by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #6) – 5
Van Shaw has been hired by an eccentric businessman to assess the security of the art gallery on his private island during a several day business meeting being hosted there. Van isn’t sure he believes the story he’s been given, but the money is good, so he agrees to the job. When he arrives, he finds the man’s normal security forces more hostile than expected. Then he finds a dead body on the beach. What has Van stumbled into this time?
I picked up this book expecting another thrilling adventure, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plot was a little slow in the set up, but once it got going, there were plenty of twists and action to keep us engaged. I was surprised to see the book switch to third person point of view, which made it a little harder than I expected to connect with Van again, but the multiple points of view we had for the climax made it clear why this book needed that switch. And the changes from one point of view to another were always easy to follow. I did have a little trouble connecting the characters to which side they were on, but that might be me. We do see some of the other series regulars, and I love how they bring out other sides in Van. Overall, this is another great entry in the series. If you are a fan of thrillers and you haven’t started these books yet, do so today.
The Drowning Sea by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Maggie D’Arcy #3) – 3
After quitting her job, Maggie D’Arcy is spending her summer in Ireland with her daughter, her boyfriend, Conor, and his son, as they get serious about Maggie and her daughter moving to Ireland. They’ve rented a cottage on a West Cork peninsula, but their vacation hits a snag when the body of a young man who disappeared months ago washes ashore. Even though Maggie isn’t a cop, she can’t help but ask questions. Where has he been for the last few months? Who would want him dead? Can Maggie find the answers even without her badge?
Since I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series, I was curious to see where the series was going to go in this book. Once again, the writing was atmospheric and made me feel like I was there with Maggie. The characters are well drawn, although I did have a little trouble keeping all the relationships of the villagers straight. Still, I loved getting to spend time with the core cast again. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book was off, lagging at times in the middle and leaving us with a weak climax, although the climax did answer all our questions. The book is written in present tense, and it took my brain a bit to adjust to that. Most of the story is told from Maggie’s first-person point of view, but we do get some chapters from other characters’ points of view to help flesh things out. Fans of the series will be glad they picked up this book.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
Scone Cold Killer by Lena Gregory (All-Day Breakfast Café Mysteries #1) – 4
Gia Morelli is trying to put her ex-husband’s financial scandal behind her as she moves from New York City to central Florida. Not only is she closer to her best friend, but she’s opening her own diner, the All-Day Breakfast Café. Her first day ends horribly, however, when she finds her ex in the dumpster behind the restaurant. What was he doing in Florida? Who killed him?
I love breakfast, so the hook of this series definitely appealed to me. While Gia’s phobias were a little over the top for me, I loved the character’s overall. The relationships Gia is forming are strong, and I can’t wait to spend more time with everyone. The story starts quickly, but it could have been a little stronger overall. Still, I couldn’t put the book down, finishing it in just a couple of days. Sadly, we don’t get any breakfast food recipes here, but the food talk definitely made me crave breakfast while I was reading. Overall, this was a solid debut, and I would definitely enjoy spending more time with the characters in the future.
22 Seconds by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women’s Murder Club #22) – 1
With the crackdown in cities all across the country on guns, things are tense, and San Francisco is no exception. San Francisco Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer is doing her part to collect the now illegal guns until she starts hearing rumors about a coming shipment of illegal guns and drugs coming into the state from Mexico. Soon, she is working on this, hoping to stop it before the guns and drugs are disbursed throughout the entire country. Can she stop it?
I realize I can’t blame the authors that this book felt ripped from recent headlines with guns once again being at the forefront, but that timing was off-putting to me from the start. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. The rest of the women were given very little to do, one of them just getting a glorified cameo. The characters are two dimensional at best, which is nothing new. The star of the book is supposed to be the story, but it’s just a mess. There are too many angles, and the conclusion does a poor job of tying things together. Worse yet, a character in danger early on is suddenly fine with no explanation of what happened. Another plot point is dropped in a similar manner. Then there’s the geography errors that 5 minutes research would have fixed for them. We’ll see how I am feeling next spring, but I’m thinking this may be my last visit with the ladies.
Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs (Charlie Thorne #3) – 4
Charlie Thorne is once again on her own, and she’s decided to find out what Cleopatra left behind over two thousand years ago. To do so, she needs to slip into the apartment of a rich Egyptian playboy. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and Charlie finds herself being chased by not only the man’s security, but several different countries’ agents. Can she dodge them and still find what Cleopatra left behind?
This series has a couple of issues for me. One is Charlie, who can come across as a perfect character for far too long. Eventually, we do see some weaknesses, but it takes a while. I suspect this is something that adults will pick on more than kids do. Then there’s the data dumps. We need some of that information to have the context for the action, but it can get to be a bit much. However, overall, I do like these books, and this one in particular. There are plenty of action sequences and twists. I’m curious where the series is going to go from here. I like the core cast, yes, even Charlie. And I mentioned the action, right? Fans of good stories will enjoy this book.
Muddled Through by Barbara Ross (Maine Clambake Mysteries #10) – 5
Spring usually means that Julia Snowden is trying to get ready for the busy season with her family’s clambake, but this year, she is being distracted by local politics. Specifically, there is the heated debate in town about turning the downtown area into a pedestrian mall on Friday and Saturday nights during the tourist season. On opposite sides of the issue are business neighbors Zoey Butterfield, who owns the pottery story where Julia’s sister works, and Phinney Hardison. When Zoey’s story is vandalized, the only motive she can think of is this controversy. Then a dead body is found. Is local politics the motive for the violence? Or is something else going on?
I’ve been anxiously waiting for this book since the last one came out. Yes, we do get to the storylines left open from the previous book, and I was actually impressed with the growth in Julia that came out of them. Of course, the book left me wondering where we were going to go next, but that’s a good thing. Yes, if you are new to the series, you could jump in here, but you’ll appreciate the growth better if you’ve read the earlier books. This is such a great series you’ll be glad you did. As always, Julia leads a great cast of new and returning characters, and I loved spending time with them. The mystery for this book is strong, and I was once again amazed at how everything was plotted when I reached the end. Fans will be happy with this book. If that isn’t you, fix that today.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries #1) – 3
Ian Rutledge has returned from the Great War, and is back at his old job at Scotland Yard. However, he is still dealing with the horrors of what he saw and did during his five years away. His first case back takes him to a small village that has asked for help after a beloved colonel was shot on his estate. Rutledge quickly realizes the political ramifications of the case, but can he figure out really happened?
I’ve heard about this series for a long time. I suspected it would be too dark for me, but I decided to try it anyway. Sadly, this is definitely darker than my normal choices. Rutledge and several other characters are dealing with some serious consequences of war. It’s realistic, but dark. On the other hand, Rutledge is an interesting character, partially because of this darkness. Where the novel really fails is the plot. After a good start, it bogs down in the middle before giving us a whiplash climax. It is logical, but too abrupt. I’m glad I gave the series a try, but I doubt I will be back.