Thursday, May 30, 2024

May 2024's Reading Summary

We are closing out another month.  Hard to believe, right?  But here we are at the end of May, so it's time for a reading summary.  And yes, I've updated The Index again.

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).  As always, the links take you to my full review.


The Bootlegger’s Daughter by Nadine Nettmann – 4

It’s 1927, and Letty Hart is struggling to keep the family vineyard afloat on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  When their contract to provide sacramental wine is canceled abruptly, the discovery of some illegal alcohol her father left behind seems too good to pass up.  Meanwhile, Annabel Forman is trying to prove she deserves the promotion to detective in the LAPD.  She is assigned a joke of a case, but she quickly begins to think she’s stumbled on a connection between several murdered bootleggers.

Obviously, these two women are destined to meet.  The story along the way is enjoyable, and the further I got into the book, the more I wanted to keep reading.  There are some surprises on the way to a suspenseful climax.  I did feel like a few aspects of the plot were rushed, but that’s a minor complaint overall.  We get the story from three different character’s points of view, Letty in first person and the other two in third person.  These changes happen at chapter breaks and are all clearly labeled.  The book is written in present tense, and once my brain got used to it, it didn’t matter.  Many of the supporting characters don’t get much page time to be fully developed, but they feel real in the time they have.  Letty and Annabel, however, are wonderful characters, and I enjoyed watching them deal with what life has given them.  If you are looking for a historic crime story, you’ll be glad you picked this one up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg (Sharpe and Walker #1) – 4

Former US Marshal Andrew Walker has joined the LA Sheriff arson investigators just as wild fires are breaking out all over the county.  His partner, veteran Walter Sharpe, is picking up on clues that these fires are arson and not accidents.  But Walker thinks there is a larger motive behind them.  If he is right, what other crimes might be happening?

If you need to read a book that takes place in chronological order, this isn’t the book for you since the book jumps back pretty often in the first two thirds to show us how the criminals came together and set up their plan.  These jumps are always easy to follow, although I do think there is a small timeline glitch at one point.  The final third takes place in the same day and it is hot page turning action.  One aspect of the climax didn’t sit well with me, but I think that’s more about me.  Walker and Sharpe can be a bit cliché, but they become more developed as the book proceeds.  As usual for this author, some of his humor doesn’t work for me, and this isn’t one of my cozies, so keep that in mind when you pick it up.  Overall, this is a great new series debut from a reliably enjoyable author.


Only the Good Die Young by Julie Mulhern (Country Club Murders #1.5) – 5

This is a short novella that is set back between the first two books.  While Ellison and her daughter are off in Europe, Ellison’s mother, Frances, gets involved in a mystery.  When she goes with one of her friends to check on the friend’s mother-in-law, they find the woman dead in her bedroom.  But it couldn’t be murder.  Frances doesn’t get involved in murder.  The woman hit her head in a fall, right?  Right?

I found Frances’s horror at getting caught up in the case to be funny.  I also liked the fact that we got to know her better, something I definitely needed.  The rest of the characters aren’t super well developed.  Likewise, the mystery is a bit simple, but it kept my interest and reached a great climax.  The thing to keep in mind is that this is a novella, and I read it in about an hour.  As long as they remember the length, fans of the series will be happy with this story.


Love Me or Grieve Me by Diane Vallere (Madison Night #10) – 5

It all starts with a mix up in the paper.  Addison Nigh, a once famous jazz singer, has died, but a small paper in town mixes it up with Madison Night, and other papers pick up on the error.  Naturally, this creates problems for Madison since banks freeze her accounts and clients cancel appointments, or don’t show up at all.

But Madison can’t help but be curious about Addison.  As she begins to meet the woman’s friends and family, she stumbles over a dead body.  Can Madison figure out what is really going on?

I always love it when an author comes up with a creative premise for a mystery, and this is one of those.  It leads to so much happening that it is hard to put down.  I couldn’t figure out which thread was important until Madison figured it out at the end.  The premise also allows us to see real growth in Madison and her relationship with her boyfriend, which I enjoyed.  There are some great comic moments as well.  Fans of Doris Day movies will not only recognize the title but also some of the details in Addison’s life, but that’s only a jumping off point.  Anyone who enjoys a great mystery will be glad they picked this one up.


Kaleidoscope by Dorothy Gilman (Madame Karitska #2) – 3

As with the first book featuring Madame Karitska, we get several stories that weave in and out of each other.  Sometimes, they touch.  Sometimes they only take up a chapter.  Madame Karitska winds up in the possession of some diamonds when she runs into an old friend on a train.  She helps a wife whose husband is interested in a nearby commune.  A man who is deathly ill comes to her for help.  She even helps a government official who is afraid some home grown terrorists might be at work.

Fans of the first book will be happy to hear that the format of the plot didn’t change much.  Sadly, for me, that means it didn’t work as well as I would have liked.  The way the stories wander around and in and out of each other without any clear beginning or climax frustrates me.  One of them ends very anticlimactically.  On the other hand, I do enjoy the charming characters and I liked spending time with them again.  As with the author’s Mrs. Pollifax series, the characters haven’t really aged even thought it was roundly 25 years between books and both take place in their present.  As a fan of the author, I’m not sorry I read this book, but I won’t be reading this series again any time soon.


The Paris Mistress by Mally Becker (Revolutionary War Mysteries #3) – 5

It’s been 10 months since Daniel Alloway went to Paris for his new employer, and Rebecca Parcell is thrilled to finally be joining him, with plans to wed while they are there.  Daniel has been staying with Benjamin Franklin, and, not too long after Rebecca arrives, Dr. Franklin receives a note bribing him to end the Revolutionary War in England’s favor.  When Daniel and Rebecca start to investigate, a dead body soon turns up.  Can they figure out what is going on?

While I love the time period, I usually prefer to focus on what was happening in the colonies at the time.  I am glad this book was set in France, however, since it allowed me to see how our war as impacting them.  I really appreciated that insight.  The plot is good.  I was beginning to suspect where things were going, but there were so many secrets that I really wasn’t sure.  Daniel and Rebecca are still a great team, and I enjoyed seeing them in action again.  The characters, whether real or fictional, were just as good.  If you enjoy this period of history, you need to read these books.


A Midnight Puzzle by Gigi Pandian (Secret Staircase Novels #3) – 4

Secret Staircase Construction is being sued by their latest customer.  He maintains that his wife’s accidental fall down the stairs was the result of their shoddy construction.  Tempest Raj doesn’t believe a word of it and thinks he may have tried to kill his wife and blame them.  Before they can figure out what to do the man dies at the theater where Tempest is preparing for her farewell tour – a theater with a connection to the Raj family’s tragic past.  While the police are initially looking elsewhere, Tempest knows it is just a matter of time before they look at her family.  Can she figure out what really happened?

This book wraps up an arc that Tempest has been on, which means fans of the series will be satisfied.  If you are new to the series, there is some background, but you might not fully understand some of what happens here.  The pacing in this book is off, with things a little slow in the second act.  Unfortunately, it means that the third act, while it does logically wrap things up, also feels very rushed.  We needed a little more time to fully absorb the twists.  Still, I love the premise of this series, and Tempest and her friends and family are always a joy to spend time around.  As usual, there are a couple of recipes at the end.  Fans will be looking forward to the next entry when they finish this one.


The Last Thing Claire Wanted by Karin Fitz Sanford (Wine Country Cold Case #1) – 4

After a divorce and leaving the FBI, Anne McCormack is trying to build her new estate sale business.  One of her few clients is Claire Murray, who has just found out she has only a few months to live.  Before she dies, Claire wants to find out what happened to her five-year-old son when he was killed twenty-nine years ago.  The case was never solved, but Anne teams up with her uncle, a retired cop, to reopen the case.  What will they find?

I picked this book up because I grew up in the town where the story is set.  I enjoyed that even if many of the places in the story are fictional.  The book is definitely darker than I would normally read, and it includes the content you’d expect from that.  At the heart of the book is a good mystery, and I was caught up in trying to figure out who did it and how Anne would prove it.  The Murray family drama did take over a few times, but most of the time, I enjoyed that story as well.  The writing is good and gives us an appropriate melancholy vibe.  It does take some of the characters time to develop, but by the end, we’ve gotten to know all of them.  If you are looking for a more serious mystery, this is a debut to pick up.


White Elephant Dead by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #11) – 4

Broward’s Rock is getting ready for the Women’s Club’s annual white elephant sale.  When Kathryn Girard disappears with the club van while out collecting donations, Annie’s friend and best customer, Henny Brawley, heads out after her.  But then no one hears from Henny.  Annie and her husband, Max, start searching for her.  They find the van with Kathryn’s body in the back and Henny’s car nearby.  The new police chief thinks that means Henny much have killed Kathryn.  But Annie knows better.  The real question is, why would anyone want to kill Kathryn?  And what happened to Henny?

It isn’t long before Annie and Max realize blackmail is involved, and it adds an interesting layer to this mystery.  As usual, I found the suspects a bit flat, and I had a hard time remember who was who.  Likewise, one aspect of the plot is just dropped, and I wish it had been fully developed.  Still, things came together for a logical climax.  I’m catching more of the references to other mystery books, but I still find there are too many of them, so they can get annoying.  The series regulars are in fine form, and they gave me plenty of laughs.  Most of my issues with the book are regular problems for me in the series, but I still enjoy the books.  If you are a fan who hasn’t read this book yet, you’ll enjoy it, too.


Tragedy in Tahoe by Rachele Baker (Rylie Sunderland Mysteries #1) – 2

After Rylie Sunderland loses her job as a veterinarian, she takes a part time job at a bed and breakfast run by some family friends.  She’s looking forward to a summer in Lake Tahoe, but she’s hardly arrived when Colin Matthews, the man who runs the local bakery, is murdered.  Rylie is worried the police will think she had something to do with the crime, so she starts to poke around.  Can she figure out what happened?

When I picked up this book, I was really hoping to enjoy it.  Sadly, the writing was extremely weak, with clunky dialogue, repetitive phrases and scenes, and other issues.  It’s a shame because the rest of the book held promise.  Not all of the characters were super developed by the end, but I liked the ones that we did get to know.  The ending of the mystery was a little abrupt, but it had plenty of clues and red herrings to keep me guessing along the way.  As much as I wanted to enjoy this book, I won’t be following Rylie’s further adventures.


Kill or Bee Killed by Jennie Marts (Bee Keeping Mysteries #2) – 4

It’s time for the annual Bee Festival in Humble Hills, Colorado.  Since Bailey’s Granny Bee is in charge, that means that Bailey will be busy with the week-long festival helping make sure that it runs smoothly.  One of the events is a local-restaurant cooking contest, and morning show host Rex Rafferty is coming to town, with a film crew, to host the event.  However, Rex is a horrible man, and it isn’t long before Bailey and her best friend, Evie, who is a contestant, are doing all they can to avoid him.  Before the contest is over, he’s been murdered.  The crew he brought with him seem like obvious suspects, but the evidence seems to point to the event’s contestants.  Can Bailey free her friend?

The book starts out a bit slowly, but with a very funny scene.  It isn’t long before the plot kicks in and we are meeting the victim and prime suspects.  I enjoyed following Bailey as she looked for the killer.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but it did answer all of my questions and kept me turning pages.  Over the course of the book, we get laughs from characters and other slapstick situations.  A few of the characters still don’t get enough page time to develop, but I enjoyed seeing the series regulars again and watching their relationships grow.  The suspects are good, but a couple could have used a little more page time.  Overall, this is a fun second entry in what is quickly becoming a sweet series.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


I Sleep Around by Sue Ann Jaffarian – 5

In this memoir, authors Sue Ann Jaffarian talks about her decision to buy a camper van when she retired and hit the road full time.  She discusses what lead to her decision and the steps she took to get ready for her new adventure before detailing what life was like that first year on the road.  She talks about the joys (visiting beautiful places, making new friends) and the pitfalls (dangerously bad weather, problems with her van).  She also talks about how her new life changed in 2020 as we were all trying to shelter in place.

As a fan turned friend, I have followed her journey from the time she first made the decision, and I was thrilled to read this book and get a good look at how she is adapting to his new life.  The book is filled with practical advice and a realistic look at what life can be like.  As I said, she covers the good and the bad, and I appreciated the balanced approach.  Still, overall, she loves her new life, and that comes through.  If anything, I wish we’d heard more about places she’s visited along the way, although the discussions we do get make me want to hit the road and see them for myself.  If you want an honest look at the life of a full-time nomad, you’ll love this book.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. What a great reading month! I have not had a 5 star book in quite a while. I miss 5 star books.

  2. I'm still working on Midnight Puzzle. I wasn't surper in love with the first two, but thought the premise was unique. Now though, this one is dragging. Hopefully it picks up soon, since I got it as an ARC and am still not done, eek.


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