16 January 2017

Book Report for October, November, and December

In my attempts to "finish up" things from 2016 before we get too much further into 2017, here are my thoughts and views on the books I read during the last few months of last year.  Be prepared for a lot of "themed" books, as I do like to read things related to various holidays, and these months are chock-full of them!  But there are non-holiday ones worth knowing about thrown in too, so maybe you'll see something that sparks an interest.

Brownies and Broomsticks, by Bailey Cates.  It turns out that this was not a Halloween-themed book, but it was about magic, so I kept reading.  And it's not that I hated it - it was fine.  Just not exactly what I usually enjoy.

Katie Lightfoot has just moved to Savannah, Georgia, to open a bakery with her aunt and uncle.  She is a trained baker, but between not really liking her previous job, and a recent breakup with her boyfriend, she's ready to start over.

When a local society matron is found murdered in her car after a business meeting at the bakery, and Katie's uncle is the prime suspect, she decides to do whatever she can to find the real killer.  The kicker is that she learns that her aunt and the women who are her group of friends are witches - and so is Katie!  Her parents are also witches, but chose to turn away from it, and never told Katie.

So that was just kind of weird, though not as hokey as I was afraid it might be.  And the search for the real killer was interesting.  And there are some amazing-sounding recipes at the end.

I liked it well enough, but it just wasn't quite my cup of tea (though I am going to try one of the recipes ...).

Candy Corn Murder, by Leslie Meier.  Another Halloween-themed book, which was a fun read.

Everyone in Tinker's Cove is excited about the Pumpkin Fest being sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.  Lucy Stone, a local reporter for The Pennysaver, a weekly paper, is busy with reporting on preparations and also taking care of her family, which includes her 4-year old grandson, who is staying with them while his parents are on a medical mission in Haiti.  Her husband is working with a neighbor to build a pumpkin catalyst, so they can participate in one of the Pumpkin Fest events.

Certain things leading up to the big event make Lucy slightly suspicious about it, but when a body is found in an old car during the pumpkin catalyst event, and it is the neighbor who had been helping Lucy's husband, she knows for sure that there is something that needs to be investigated.  And when her husband is arrested for the murder, it's up to Lucy to find out what really happened.

Entertaining and a fun holiday read.

Death by Pumpkin Spice, by Alex Erickson.  The final book I read for this Halloween season.

Krissy Hancock is the owner of a bookstore cafe, who apparently (in previous books I have not read) finds herself investigating and helping to solve murders in the community.  A local doctor who she hopes will become her boyfriend invites her to a swanky Halloween party.  She would rather stay home, but does not want to miss the opportunity to spend time with this guy, Will.  So she gets a costume together and they go to the party.

When one of the guests is murdered, the party pretty much stops, but no one is allowed to leave the house.  The investigating officer Paul - who Krissy also dated and likes - is also a guest at the party, so the two of them start trying to figure out what happened.

Besides Will and Paul, Krissy's ex shows up, hoping to win her back.  And the other police officer called to the scene is not a fan of Krissy's and she is pretty sure he wishes he could pin the whole thing on her.  Eventually things are resolved.

This was another OK read.   I didn't love it, but I also didn't hate it.  It was just acceptable.

I need to start finding books for Halloween reading that engage me more ...

A Biscuit, A Casket, by Liz Mugavero.  Kristan "Stan" Connor is feeling happy that she left her stressful job and moved to Frog Ledge, Connecticut.  Even better, her organic pet food company has been gaining more and more business and she has even been asked to make all of the treats for a dog birthday party (!) at a local farm.  She is excited because it's also the opening night of the Halloween corn maze, and the whole town has been talking about it.

Except shortly after she arrives, the farmer is found dead at the entrance to the maze.  With a sickle sticking out of his chest.   As the police try to figure out who killed the farmer, we learn that he was actually not that interested in the farm, and had other activities going on.  Stan volunteers to help the farmer's wife straighten out the books, and starts to learn that there were real problems with cash flow.  It leads her to some suspicions about others in the farm co-op, as well as trying to figure out if her friend Izzy was involved.

In the middle of all of this, her mother shows up for a visit.  Stan is truly thrown for a loop, as her mother is not known for enjoying small towns, and is really critical of Stan's latest venture.

This was an entertaining read, and enjoyable for the Halloween season.

The Wolfe Widow, by Victoria Abbott.  I started this book because it was listed as a Thanksgiving themed book, and those are few and far between.  And yes, it took place during the week of Thanksgiving, and at the end there was a big dinner, but that's it.

Jordan Bingham works for, and lives in the home of, Vera Van Alst, a woman whose family was once quite prominent in the town, but is now hated due to loss of jobs at their factory.  Jordan is quite pleased with her job as a live in book-collecting/book-selling consultant for Vera's amazing collection.  Until one evening a mysterious woman named Muriel Delgado shows up unannounced and takes over everything.  Jordan finds herself out of a job, and cannot figure out why.  She becomes determined to find out why Muriel is able to wield such power over Vera, who is usually a force to be reckoned with.

I read the entire book, and it was interesting enough, but frankly it didn't really do anything for me.  Everything about it was just OK - the characters, the story, the setting.  And in my opinion it has no business calling itself Thanksgiving themed.

Overall - meh.

The Guineveres, by Sarah Domet.  I received this book via a Goodreads giveaway.

This was an interesting and different book.  Four girls, each named Guinevere, are left by family members to live and be educated at a convent for various reasons.  The narrator is one of the Guineveres.  They form a strong and lifelong bond, growing up in a different atmosphere and world than where they started out, and rely on each other throughout the story.

At first it's difficult to determine the time period, but I decided it was during World War II.  The girls really want to try and escape to the outside world, but one time when they are caught, part of their service to make up for misbehaving is to work in the sick ward of the convent, which also has patients from the outside world.  For the most part, they find it tedious.  That is, until four wounded soldiers who are all in a coma arrive on the hospital wing, having been war casualties.

The soldiers' arrival changes everything for the Guineveres.  Each of them "adopts" a soldier, and as the book goes on, they become obsessed with learning their identities.  They see them as their way out of the convent, both into the real world again, but also eventually as their wives.

The book is a story of friendship, and love, and religion, and how four girls in basically the same situation grow up and have differing lives once they leave the convent.  For all of their desires to leave, they also realize that the nuns and other students are basically all the family they have.

In some ways, it's a story of being careful what you wish for; but the core of the story is one of survival by four girls whose worlds were turned upside down, and how they deal with it and the effects on the rest of their lives.

I really enjoyed this book.

Strangled Prose, by Joan Hess.  When Claire Malloy reluctantly agrees to host a reception her friend's new book, she is mainly dismayed because she doesn't generally sell steamy romances at her bookstore, the Book Depot.  But when the reception is interrupted by a local women's group, and selections are read aloud that bear an unsettling resemblance to some in attendance, and even to a part of Claire's past, she is both surprised and annoyed.

When she later receives a call from the friend's house, saying she has been murdered, and then the police think she is a suspect, things start to get really sticky.  When she starts looking into things herself, she finds that the book wasn't the only place where there were some secrets.  And there were a lot of people in the town who could have been involved - but hopefully not her teenage daughter!

This was a quick and entertaining read.

You'll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein.  Jessi Klein is a comedy writer who has worked on "Saturday Night Live" and is currently a writer for "Inside Amy Shumer."  This is a collection of her writing, covering her childhood through her current existence.

This was an enjoyable read, really really funny in places, and just plain funny in others.  I only gave it two stars because towards the end it went a little bit too much into her and her husband's effort to have a baby and related things.  I'm sincerely glad for her that it worked out, but I have to admit I'd like to read one thing sometime where having a baby isn't the pinnacle of the story.

It is amusing for the most part, and a very quick read.

Not a Creature Was Stirring, by Jane Haddam.  This book introduces us to Gregor Demarkian, a retired FBI agent, two years after losing his wife Elizabeth, and at somewhat of a loss.  On the one hand, he was more than ready to retire; on the other hand, he hasn't really found a way to fill his time in a satisfactory way.

A local Orthodox priest makes a request of Gregor.  A well-known local millionnaire, Robert Hannaford, has asked the priest to ask Gregor to call him.  He receives an invitation to dinner at the family home in Bryn Mawr (PA) on Christmas Eve.  Which seems especially odd, since Gregor has never met anyone in the family, including Robert Hannaford.

When he shows up, having been slowed down a bit by a terrible snowstorm, some has murdered Robert Hannaford.  On the one hand, it's no surprise, as all of his seven adult children are known to hate him.  His wife's dress is covered in blood, but she is in the final stages of MS, and is frail and can barely even feed herself.

And so Gregor Demarkian gets involved in the case, later on a more official basis when the chief investigating office asks him to consult.  During the course of the book we learn some of the family's secrets, and other family members are murdered before Gregor can figure it out.

As if all of that was not enough, his neighbors in the Armenian neighborhood are busy trying to help him restart his life, and asking him to help with a neighbor's disappearing boyfriend.

I enjoyed this book, because it was a different type of story.  The Hannford family was not that likable, but you still wanted to find out what was going on both with the murders and other things causing conflict.  And Gregor's neighbors and the description of the neighborhood were really entertaining.

I think I'll likely try another in this series to see it continues to be interesting to me.

The Mistletoe Murder, by Leslie Meier.  This was a perfectly entertaining read for the holiday season.  I've read a couple of books in this series (well out of order), but apparently this is the first one.  Which was kinda funny since Lucy Stone (the main character) has young kids here, and a job other than the one she has in the later books.

Anyway, Lucy is working the overnight shift at Country Cousins, a catalog mail-order company in her town (think along the lines of LL Bean).  It's Christmastime, things are pretty busy.  While on a break one night, she finds a car in the parking lot that has its motor on with a hose into the front seat.  She is able to offer some help, but it's clear that the person in the car is dead - and it's the owner of Country Cousins!

While doing all of the other things everyone does at holiday time, including dealing with a visit from her recently widowed mother, Lucy tries to figure out why her boss was killed, and who killed him.

Like I said, it's an entertaining read and I for one was surprised at the end to learn the identity of the murderer.

The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay.  When Sir Osmond Melbury decides - well demands - that his entire family come for a visit for Christmas Day, what he has planned is a visit from Santa Klaus and a Christmas tree.

What ends up happening is his murder.

This is an interesting take on the classic "country house murder" genre.  Each person present has their own issues, of course, but also has a potential reason to benefit from Sir Osmond's death.  Everyone is restricted to the house and the grounds once the crime has been committed, and not being a family that enjoys spending a lot of time together, tensions and suspicions mount with each passing hour.

I enjoyed this book.  Though some of the characters were somewhat cliche, the overall story kept me entertained, and wondering who the murderer would actually turn out to be.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley.  Flavia de Luce is at it again!  This time though, she has set quite an undertaking for herself:  to prove or disprove the existence of Father Christmas, using science of course.  Flavia has begun to question the hows, ifs, and wheres of Father Christmas and his secret delivery of presents at Christmastime.  Scientifically speaking, she cannot imagine that it can be true.  But on the other hand, every Christmas morning, there are presents under the tree, and no one else seems to have a clue how they got there.

As she is making her plans to "trap" Father Christmas if he does in fact exist, she learns that a film crew will be setting up a Buckshaw, the family home, to shoot a movie staring the famous actress Phyllis Wyvern.  Though disappointed that there will be others traipsing around the house and grounds while the family is trying to celebrate the holidays, she also realizes that her father agreed to the shoot because the film studio would pay well for the opportunity of filming at Buckshaw.

Since the actors are there anyway, they agree to do a small performance for the townspeople to raise funds to make repairs at the church.  Two major events occur related to this:  there is a terrible blizzard that takes place while everyone is at Buckshaw, causing everyone to have to remain at the house until it's clear and safe enough to leave, and Phyllis Wyvern if found murdered in her room.

Now Flavia suddenly has a lot on her plate, and her curiosity and desire to investigate put her in the thick of things.

This was enjoyable, not just because of Flavia's plan to trap Father Christmas, but because of her naivete regarding so much of adult life, and life outside of her family and small village.

Murder Under the Mistletoe, by Janice L. Davis.  I gave this book four stars, not because it was amazing literature, but because it did such a wonderful job of evoking time and place.

It's Christmastime 1946, in a small town in Wisconsin, and the annual Christmas carnival is ready to start.  Shockingly, the town's mayor, Max Mueller is murdered at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony!

Enter Agatha Larsen, a retired schooteacher, and her two granddaughters.  After a friend is also murdered, they start looking into things themselves, and discover that their small, quiet town is hiding a lot of secrets.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons:  1) the time period.  Not that long after World War II has ended, and people are happy to be back to their normal lives;  2) the feeling of small-town life.  Some of the events and characters were so on point for not just 1946, but for many years, if not decades, after; 3) the writing.  Though not amazing, it was lovely, quiet, and carried the story well.

The ending was fine, though not quite what I was expecting.  Overall, this is a lovely read for a break during the holidays.


According to my Goodreads tally, I read 70 books last year.  Not bad!  Of course, I was prompted to set a goal for this year, and I almost did.  But then I decided not to do that.  I'm just gonna see what happens, and not think about a number.

Have you read anything good lately?  Feel free to suggest some good ones!


Lorraine said...

Bridget- I had no idea there even was Halloween themed fiction, aside from the usual Edgar Allen Poe.

I'm on a Margaret Drabble jag now. I've just finished "The Pure Gold Baby".

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am IMPRESSED with 70 books!

I did VERY little reading last year and I aim to remedy that this year.

I just finished My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg. It was pretty good up until the last couple of essays where he went way too deep into Alabama football.

There are some funny stories and that is the book that has the chapter Crazy Cat Lady that Giroux was "looking" at.

Caffeine Girl said...

I love the title "Strangled Prose"and the story sounds interesting. I went through a mystery phase many years ago, but now I can only read so many in a year.

Vera said...

WOW! 70 books is wonderful. I need to step it up!

Araignee said...

I always look forward to your book reviews! I get so little time to read and I hate wasting my time with something I won't like. You take all the work out of it for me.

Angela said...

That surely is an impressive amount of reading!! I used to be a better reader in terms of quantity when I was younger. Thank you for your visit to my blog and I wish you a wonderful year in 2017!!

elns said...

Oh I love the book report! I've only read one on your list and I felt the same way. I love how you seasonally read. I have not been reading, can we still be friends?

Judy S. said...

Fun to read your book reviews! Looks like you enjoy mysteries? Me, too. I just finished The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett, a fun spy story with lots of twists and turns. Now I might have to find that Mistletoe mystery as I grew up in Wisconsin.