ROUNDUP January-July 2022

January 2022 started off with a bang-a 5 star read. Love it when that happens! Since I am still untangling some website issues, I’m going to do a recap of the year so far. I’ve had good luck so far this year with some great reads and re-reads of favorite series.

New year/books/possibilities

I started 2022 with Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon. Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? They film at the beautiful Highclere Castle-home of Lord and Lady Carnarvon. Who are they you ask? Well, the current Lady Fiona Carnarvon writes luscious books about the family and the estate that connect with the Downton Abbey television show. Lord Carnarvon (the 8th Earl) is the descendant of the 5th Earl who is famous for a little thing called discovering King Tut’s tomb! He provided the funding for Howard Carter to dig and the rest is history. So, this book is the story of the wife of the 5th Earl-Lady Almina. She was basically just a young rich girl who got married and became awesome. Her money (Rothschild) allowed her husband to keep the family home (Highclere Castle) and she transformed it into a showplace. Not before she set up hospital wards to treat WWI soldiers. Almina left a legacy in the healthcare world that is so important in our current pandemic era-that of cleanliness and sanitation. After the war years, she set up a hospital that saved countless lives because of her high standards.

My next reading adventure was a fifth/sixth/47th? read through of the Sookie Stackhouse series. Never disappoints-some are better than others but all solid 3-4 star reads. A bit long in the tooth (see what I did there?) by the last few but still well worth the time to visit my old bloodsucker buddies in Bon Temps.

February was a mishmash of various titles. The best one was Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case by Charles Bosworth Jr. and Joel J. Schwartz. The book that started the All About Pam phenomenon. I got this book as part of a review program and it did not disappoint. I’ll add my review below but if you like true crime that is weird because it’s true-you will love Bone Deep. The mini series (The Thing About Pam) is also excellent-Renee Zellweger is chillingly perfect as Pam Hupp.

5 big fat stars! This is one of the best true crime novels I’ve ever read. I’m from Missouri, I remember this case and thought I knew all about it-I was wrong. Bosworth & Schwartz go literally “Bone Deep” to tell the tale of the brutal murder of Betsy Faria. Excruciatingly researched and detailed, the reader gets it all. WHO, HOW, WHY; the behind the scenes and courtroom wrangling, every question I had was answered. It is very readable with the legal and scientific things explained so it is understandable. You can feel the attorney’s anger and anguish in his defense of Betsy’s husband as they fight an uphill battle against the police, the prosecution and the judge. The story is gut wrenching and unbelievably sad but the book is excellent. I received a copy-the review is my own opinion.

February weirdness continued with 2 very good books: a non-fiction called Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show by Jonathan Karl and a fiction called The Raven Spell (Conspiracy of Magic #1) by Luanne G. Smith.

Betrayal was a 5 star book as Karl (of ABC News) continues the story of Trump from the lost election to January 6th. I found this book riveting and stopped over and over to fact check for myself. No matter which side the aisle you are on, this is a stunner of a read that gives all the behind the scenes drama and reveals the truth of what was really going on in the last days of the “Trump Show”. 5 stars

The Raven Spell was also an awesome read. The characters, the world building,everything about it was perfect. Ian Cameron is a private detective in Victorian London. He loses his memory and has nothing but a weird pocket watch and the business card of a wizard! Through a series of events, he joins forces with the Blackwood sisters-witches! They follow the clues through the dangerous London streets and find horrible murders as well as suspicions that may bring the sister witches closer together or rip them apart forever. The second book in the series is called The Raven Song and is due to be released in October 2022. Stay tuned for an update as soon as I can get my hands on a copy!!

March & April were consumed by old friends from re-reads of 3 entire series: The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor, Lucas Davenport/Prey and Virgil Flowers Series by John Sandford. Excellent reads as always and much like the Sookie Stackhouse books; well worth the time to re-read.

I took one detour mid-March to catch up with Veronica Speedwell in the 7th book in the series by Deanna Raybourn. An Impossible Impostor was good but only 3 stars for me. Veronica and the delicious Stoker are tasked with investigating an amnesiac who may be the heir to a fortune or maybe he is just a devious impostor? There was some good revealing of more of Veronica’s past but the story dragged on far too long and the denouement just wasn’t up to the standards of the previous six books. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and will keep buying whatever Raybourn writes-I just think she was a little ‘off her game’ in this one.

April ended with a BANG as I finally finished Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. 4 stars. Oh, this book! I started this book at least once a month for almost a year. Two pages in I moved on to something else, just did not hold my interest. It kept popping up on forums, Facebook and newsletters etc so I sat down and said ok, I will commit to read the first 50 pages and then it’s either finish it or never speak of it again. Once I got past the first bit that was so boring and just like every other ‘lost in space’ book I’ve ever read, it became a totally diferent book. The plot is that Ryland Grace awakens on a spaceship, millions of miles from Earth. He finds his crewmates dead and realizes he has been asleep for a loooooooong time. What is he doing on this ship? What is his mission? How will he get back home? I liked this book-not as good as The Martian but then what is? But, Ryland is a likeable guy and as his memories return the story takes off. The science is explained very well-I understood it; don’t know if it’s real science or story/plot science but it made sense. The ending was so good, I was surprised by how Weir wrapped it up and in a good way. I’m glad I kept at it because I would have hated to have missed this book.

APRIL SHOWERS brought MAY books galore!

I started May with a whiz bang 3 book series called Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie. Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. The plot is Breq, a soldier who used to be a starship but now they are an ‘enhanced’ human. The 3 books are an engrossing, well plotted tale of interstellar intrigue as Breq confronts their past and navigates a new future as they both support and oppose the emperor. World building on a massive scale-check. Interesting and intriguing characters-check. Weird aliens and space battles-check. I really enjoyed the series and I will be looking at more books by Ann Leckie.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches (Dangerous Damsels #2) by India Holton. 4 stars. The second in the series continues with the Wisteria Society/pirates and League of Gentlewomen/witches as Black Beryl’s amulet is found and EVERYBODY thinks it should be theirs. A fun romp that had me in stitches over the weirdness; seriously-flying houses?!! Super good and book #3,The Secret Service of Tea and Treason is due to be released April 2023.

I finished out May with new books from old friends. The Investigator (Letty Davenport #1) by John Sandford. Letty is the adopted daughter of main character Lucas Davenport of the Prey series. In this one she is out of Stanford and working as an investigator for Homeland Security. Not up to Sandford’s usual standards but the problem is the amount of backstory to get new readers up to speed. The pace just dragged on and on. When it finally got going I enjoyed it and there were many plot clues as to where he is going with the series. I gave it four stars and will of course buy and read anything John Sandford writes-he is definitely one of my favorite authors.

The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily (The Darling Dahlias #9) by Susan Wittig Albert. Ninth book in the series-always enjoyable. The gardening ladies of Darling, Alabama never fail to entertain. The books are a slow, steady stroll through the plot as the characters interact and figure out whatever mystery is afoot. In this story there is a new radio station in town keeping Charlie over at the newspaper hopping; one of Bessie Bloodworth’s resident ladies at the Magnolia Manor is dead after eating a huge cake all by herself, and the new bakery is struggling because the ladies can’t bake a decent loaf of bread! In the midst of it all, Violet is seriously considering taking little Cupcake off to Hollywood to try her luck as a Shirley Temple look-alike. Will the stars in her eyes draw her away from Darling? Can the men in her life compete with Liz Lacy’s book? And what kind of magic can Voodoo Lil contribute? Great book and it reads like a visit back home. Very enjoyable.

The Diva Says Cheesecake! (A Domestic Diva Mystery, #15) By Krista Davis. Another enjoyable fluff of a read from Krista Davis. Sophie is organizing a dessert buffet for the Queen of Cheesecake, Bobbie Sue Bodoin, who demands there be no actual cheesecake served. When Bobbie Sue’s husband is a no show to the event, are we surprised he will be found dead the next morning? And that she is the number one suspect? Or that Sophie snoops around and solves the case? Nope, nope and nope.

Let me digress a bit here. Formulaic genre books get a bad rap-I’m the first one to call out laziness on the part of authors who google how to write a insert genre book and then follow the outline. You have to have some talent and manipulate the formula and tell a great story. Krista Davis does. I always know where she is going with the plot and most of the time whodunit and why. But she does surprise me from time to time. Even when I know where the plot train is going, I enjoy riding along with her as she tells her stories. I like her writing style and her characters. I’ve even made a few of her recipes over the years and quite liked them as well.

So, will this book blow your skirt up and be the next best thing to Jane Austen? Of course not but it’s fun, the plot moves right along and Sophie is a good character. 3 solid stars from me and of course I’m waiting for the next one to come out so I can revisit Old Town and see who is dead and how Sophie figures it out.

If you were wondering why I went on that little ‘formula’ rant-it’s because of the last book I read in May. A Safe House (Stone Barrington #61) by Stuart Woods. Talk about a formula! Stuart Woods has found a formula he loves and he will NOT deviate from it, every book is pretty much like the others with the outrageous wealth, airplanes, beautiful women and so so much sex. 61 books into this series and I STILL snatch them up on release day. Books 20, 30 and 48 got 4 stars-they were so much better than the norm for this series. But, if my math is correct that leaves 58 2/3 star books so, are they that bad or have I just built up a train wreck mentality to them? I’d like to not read them but I just can’t stop myself. Is there a Stone Barrington recovery group somewhere? Woods is taking the James Patterson route with his new Teddy Fay series by adding co-authors. These are written better and the characters and plots are, still out there, but enjoyable.

June Heats Up

Oh, boy, I found a new series! The Sam Quinn series by Seana Kelly. Ok, this might not be for everyone but hear me out-Sam is a werewolf and also a nerd. She runs a bar and also a BOOKSTORE in a super cool underwater secret lair type thing. I don’t know but it’s cool. The plot of book one, is that the body of a female werewolf washes up at the bar/bookstore with scars identical to the ones Sam has. Ooh, what could it all mean? Sam is hiding a past that is revealed slowly via backstory and is very interesting. There is a sexy vampire of course. But the story is so well done and the characters are great. Well written and developed over the course of the first 4 books I devoured one after the other…then I was sad because book five won’t be out until October. Book one-The Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore & Bar. Book two-The Dead Don’t Drink at Lafitte’s. Book three- The Wicche Glass Tavern. Book four-The Hob & Hound Pub.

There’s one in every crowd-a clinker, a dud, a yikes what was the author thinking. A FORMULA OUTLINE BOOK THAT FAILSon all. the. levels. Chaos Wolf by Sheryl R. Hayes was a freebie book I received for a review. This is the second book in the Jordan Abbey series. I have not read book one but the reviews are generally positive and people seem to have enjoyed reading it. Chaos Wolf is book 2 and what a stinker it turned out to be. I finished the whole thing since it was for a review but, wow, bad. The plot seems to be that Jordan was bitten by a werewolf but must be taught by a vampire? I never did figure out that part. Here is my review I posted on Goodreads:

“really bad-would have given zero stars. it was a freebie from LibraryThing
Review Chaos Hunt by Sheryl R. Hayes 1 star

This is the second book in the Jordan Abbey series. Jordan was bitten by a werewolf and is now caught between weres and vampires and every paranormal trope ever. ALL of them.

Some like her, most hate her but somebody is killing the ‘helpers’ of the vampires and apparently only she can bring the supernatural community together. Sadly, it was so convoluted none of it made sense and none of the characters were fleshed out or developed beyond the basics.

Many things happen to the characters and literally nobody seems to care or comment on anything except how it was all Jordan’s fault and why won’t she just die already.

The author did a great job of sticking to the paranormal formula (look it up-you can write one, too!) and threw in all kinds of cool stuff but with zero explanation or reasoning. Needed an editor. I was given a copy of this book.”

Like I said earlier in this post-if you are going to follow a formula,that’s great, do it. Whatever it takes to get you to put your words down just do it. But, one little caveat-do the work. You can’t just follow the outline and hit the 5 sentence paragraph, loop back to the sub plot and oh, yeah don’t forget the secondary character/wacky friend/weird coworker etc. You can’t do it that way-if you do, you will end up with this crappy book.

Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones was up next. Another series I have tried to start for years but this June was finally the time. I got through the first 2 and realized the series isn’t for me. Charley is a grim reaper. So a new twist to the paranormal genre. Book 1-First Grave on the Right was good until about halfway through. Then there is an ‘entity’, and some sex and I pushed on and tried book 2-Second Grave on the Left. More rushing around, more sex, more mysteriousness over Reyes and who/what he is. Not bad and I know Darynda has LEGIONS of fans who devour everything she writes; just not my cup of tea.

I was so excited to get my copy of ‘Til Death (Witch City Mystery #12) by Carol J. Perry. Carol is awesome and I enjoy her books immensely. Lee Barrett and Pete are finally tying the knot and they head off to Maine for their honeymoon. They plan a visit to the site where Lee’s parents were killed to bring her some closure. Mysterious happenings ensue and this intriguing little story just kept going and going. The characters are so well written and the plot showed them to their best advantage. I enjoy Lee, Aunt Ibby and of course O’Ryan the cat; there was a little clue crumb that maybe we will see more of these folks in future books.

Speaking of future books-Carol J. Perry has a new series A Haunted Haven Mystery and the first book is Be My Ghost. Wonderful! I enjoyed the story of Maureen and her dog Finn as they move from Boston to Florida to accept the inheritance of a hotel from a mysterious benefactor. Finn is so cute-he flunked out of guide dog training! Maureen is written as a real person with bills, job loss etc and she copes like a real person not a ‘book’ character with all the answers. Carol does a great job as usual with dead bodies, ghostly helpers and a neat little mystery. Book #2 High Spirits will be out in October.

Anne Hillerman continues her father’s beloved Navajo police series in the 25th book and I believe her 8th entry with The Sacred Bridge. Sergeant Jim Chee is on a mission to help Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn find a cave of sacred art when he stumbles upon a body in a lake. Meanwhile his wife Officer Bernadette Manuelito watches in horror as a car purposely kills a hitchhiker. A really good book. Let’s break it down-what Chee is looking for is detailed way back in the 3rd book, Listening Woman so no need to rehash those details-get it from the library and refresh your memory. The book still stands up even since 1979! I like how as the series continues Chee is so true to his faith while still questioning and growing. His journey to help Leaphorn was interesting and the characters really brought the plot alive.

The subplot of Bernie and the cannabis was weaker but still very readable as well as relatable-everybody has an opinion on legalizing etc and in this book Bernie finds herself in a deadly situation that could play out anywhere. Anne Hillerman is a very good writer and I like the series, I like where she has taken the characters and this book was a solid 4 stars from me.

My last June read was a quick non fiction. Store This, Not That!: The Quick and Easy Food Storage Guide by Crystal Godfrey. Very good if you are an absolute novice at food storage. Super simple instructions and examples of making better food storage choices. For example they break down store bought granola bars vs homemade ‘survival’ bars because all good preppers make their own bars, right? Wrong! Who knew? There is detailed information on water, 72 hour bags, cooking if there is no power and a huge section on long term supplies. It’s a good little book but definitely geared for the beginner food storage crowd.


July was SOOOO hot here in Missouri. A good month to curl up with a book and not move until it cools down.

I started with a new series by Ellen Byron, the Vintage Cookbook Mystery book #1 Bayou Book Thief.

Great intro to a new series about widow Ricki James who heads to New ORleans to open a museum gift shop at the Bon Vee Culinary House Museum. Ricki is a great character and the supporting cast is quirky and fun. There is a fired employee, a dead body and some serious fun as Ricki and her pals solve the crime. Ricki’s backstory is interesting and I hope there will be more reavealed when book two is released February 2023.

Steeping Secrets: The Magical Tea Room Mysteries by Erin Johnson. Another entry in this cute little series. Minnie is on the case when an arson victim has suspicious bite marks on her neck. Most of Minnie’s friends are either vampires or shifters, so she steps up to use her witch powers to solve the case. There is a cat and lots of tea so just hop on for the ride. Nothing too violent or graphic, a fun cozy.

My next read was A Poisonous Review (Vampire Book Club #4) by Nancy Warren. I really like Nancy Warren’s books. She works the formula very well and gives us fully developed characters, backstories, interesting plots and, in this series, vampires and books! The plot is a customer at the local pub dies after eating the signature stew. Was it a tragic accident or murder? Are the Americans really mafia men? Or did the leprechauns to blame? Quinn Callahan calls on her vampire book club for help to solve the crime.

I had a good time reading Pink Moon (Hex Support Mystery #1) by Annabel Chase, Tana Grey. Katherine Fairfield is a former agent for Hex Support, a division of the Federal Bureau of Magic. After her husband dies, she quits to raise her kids. Now they are off to college and Katherine (Kit) is drawn back to do one last job for her former boss. Once in Savannah, she reluctantly teams up with a mysterious vampire to solve the gruesome murder of a rich socialite. There is family drama galore as Kit and Palmer question suspects-seems like everyone had a good reason to want the victim dead. The subplot of Kit’s family and the magical sanctuary they live in with familiars whose witch has passed was really interesting. Apparently either Kit or one of her sisters must be at the house all the time or the magic goes away. That alone would have been a great book. But all in all this story was good, well told, Palmer was kind of a douche and the murder was easily solved. There are two more books in the series that focus on each of the other sisters.

Another non-fiction book. 100 Day Pantry by Jan Jackson. This was a freebie from Kindle Unlimited and I have not returned it yet-it is FULL of good ideas and recipes; lots and lots and lots of recipes or more accurately preparation guidelines. Prepping and food storage is all the rage now. But after you fill up your pantry-what in the world do you do with all that food? How do you take it from can/bottle/bucket etc and actually feed your family? This little book has a TON of ways to do just that. Use this as a companion to the Store This,Not That book I read in June. That will give you the basics of what to gather in and how to store it, then read 100 Day Pantry to learn how to USE it.

Mid month I got a review copy of Helltown: The Untold Story of Serial Murder on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman. I gave it 3 stars because it could have been great but it was …meh…

My review: Interesting book but I never really got into it. It had so many twists and turns that never connected to anything. There was quite a bit of research and the actual facts of the story were intriguing. True crime is one of my favorite genres but this one tried too hard. It was very heavy handed in trying to weave the hippies and their lifestyle of peace and love and contrast that with this brutal serial killer. Some parts were really good but there were too many easy to skip weak parts.

The best part of July was when I discovered the Mitten State Mystery series bt M.V. Byrne. Meet Isabel Puddles is the first book, then Isabel Puddles Investigates and Isabel Puddles Abroad. Wow, is this a good series! Isabel is a widow living in Gull Harbor on the shores of Lake Michigan. She works in her cousins hardware store, and sells her homemade pickles and pies. One of her side jobs is styling hair at the local funeral home where a murder is discovered. Isabel is friends with the victims family and steps in to help with the investigation. Book two continues with Isabel opening her own private detective agency. She takes on the case of a missing relative and finds herself involved in at least one more murder as her life is once again in danger.

I received a copy of book three for review. It will be released in November.

My review: The third entry in the Isabel Puddles cozy mystery series finds Isabel finally heading to Cornwall to visit her pen pal, Teddy. Of course there is a murder and Isabel is soon in the middle of things and assisting the local police to find the killer. The investigation is complicated by Teddy’s family drama and a scone baking competition that has its own dramatic aspects. Isabel is a great character and I felt she was channeling Jessica Fletcher/Murder She Wrote in sorting out the case. Very low key, no graphic violence, just a nice cozy mystery. I enjoyed the book and can’t wait for some of these characters to show up in Michigan as the series continues.

I finally got to books 5,6,7 & 8 in the Lady Hardcastle Mystery series. Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a past. Her maid, Florence Armstrong is more than she appears. In 1908 they move from London to the countryside hamlet of Littleton Cotterell, where murder, espionage and all sorts of shenanigans ensue. Her Ladyship and Flo take it all in stride and solve the conundrums while working with Inspector Sunderland. Very good series, the plots are tight and the characters and supporting cast are well written and fully developed. This is a wonderful series and the next book will be released in November.

And that wraps up January – July 2022

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