The Santa Suit

The Santa SuitThe Santa Suit
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250279316
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Pages: 210
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

When newly-divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse sight unseen, she is definitely looking for a change in her life. The Four Roses, as the farmhouse is called, is a labor of love—but Ivy didn't bargain on just how much labor. The previous family left so much furniture and so much junk, that it's a full-time job sorting through all of it.

At the top of a closet, Ivy finds an old Santa suit—beautifully made and decades old. In the pocket of a suit she finds a note written in a childish hand: it's from a little girl who has one Christmas wish, and that is for her father to return home from the war. This discovery sets Ivy off on a mission. Who wrote the note? Did the man ever come home? What mysteries did the Rose family hold?

Ivy's quest brings her into the community, at a time when all she wanted to do was be left alone and nurse her wounds. But the magic of Christmas makes miracles happen, and Ivy just might find more than she ever thought possible: a welcoming town, a family reunited, a mystery solved, and a second chance at love.


 

This book had a dubious beginning with a main character that was flat and wooden, a romantic interest that was a little bit too forward at the start, and a charming house, dog, fabulous Christmas decorations, and lovely small-town friendliness holding it together.

At just over 50%, Ivy finally started acting like a human being.  I kept expecting some big reveal about her childhood that would explain her complete lack of emotion about anything and everything, but it never happened.  This is one of those rare times when a little introspection on the part of the MC might have helped the reader develop some empathy and understanding, but without it, I just really didn’t connect with Ivy, with one exception: her scenes with Lawrence felt sincere and were the only times when it seemed Ivy came alive to any degree.

Phoebe’s side story with Cody worked out pretty much exactly the way I thought it would, although their meet-cute was a nice touch.

I’d have liked to have a seen a little more resolution concerning her relationship with the woman who owned the candy company – that felt unfinished to me.

The romantic ending of the story felt pretty rushed and awfully optimistic, (this coming from someone who’s relationship could be accused of being rushed and optimistic) but it’s a Christmas novella, so I guess I’m meant to just go with it.

But most of all, and the reason I ended up giving this story 3.5 stars instead of 3, I loved the back story about Bob and Betty Rae.  I love how they never lost their joy around the holidays, how they made such a quiet impact on the town during their lifetimes, and above all, I loved that they were Jewish.  NOT because of any religious nonsense, but because they were able to be the bright spark of the Christmas season for this small town without compromising their own faith.  I like reading stories about people coming together in the middle, rather than having to be one way or the other, and about being able to celebrate lots of different traditions without the stigma of turning your back on your own.  It was an unexpected twist I enjoyed, and let’s face it, I totally fell for all the talk about vintage ornaments and bubble lights.

For a story that started off with so little potential, it ended up being a sweet and somewhat charming holiday tale.

No Escape Claws (Second Chance Cat Mystery, #6)

No Escape ClawsNo Escape Claws
by Sofie Ryan
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781101991244
Series: Second Chance Cat Mystery #6
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
Pages: 287
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

It’s fall in North Harbor, Maine, where Sarah owns a charming secondhand shop and sells lovingly refurbished items of all kinds. The shop is always bustling–and not just because a quirky team of senior-citizen detectives works out of it and manages to get in even more trouble than Sarah’s rough-and-tumble rescue cat, Elvis.

A cold case heats up when young Mallory Pearson appears at the shop. Mallory’s father is in prison for negligence after her stepmother’s mysterious death, but Mallory believes he is innocent and asks the in-house detectives to take on the case. With Sarah and Elvis lending a paw, the detectives decide to try to give Mallory’s father a second chance of his own.


 

A so-so entry.  Good character, great cat, small-town setting.  Sophie Ryan (who also writes as Sophie Kelly) is a decent writer, too, but the plotting was weak in No Escape Claws.

View Spoiler »

 

Overall, this is an enjoyable cozy series, as current cozies go.  This one just wasn’t one of the strongest.

The Truth About Animals

The Truth About AnimalsThe Truth About Animals
by Lucy Cooke
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780465094646
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Pages: 337
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction
Publisher: Basic Books

What a ride.  Cooke covers 13 animals that the myths that have persisted about them over the centuries, debunking and setting the record straight.  I’m going to be straight with you: there are a lot of testicles involved, both in the myths and the realities.  I’d like to say that the truth is stranger than the fiction, but really, it’s a dead heat between the two when it comes to these particular animals.  By far the funniest, to me, was the beaver; the most tragic, the panda bears, which are, from the looks of it, being loved into extinction.

The writing is very engaging and there’s a lot of cheeky humor; hard to avoid when there are so many testicles involved.  I found myself reading so much of this aloud to MT, because much of what I read fascinated me.  Some of it I was already familiar with (penguin necrophilia, most of the information about the frogs) but a lot of it was new and I’m now totally fascinated by the possibilities of hippo sweat.

A fun read if you like animals and are an armchair scientist with a sense of humor.

Murder Once Removed (Genealogical Mystery, #1)

Murder Once RemovedMurder Once Removed
by S.C. Perkins
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250189035
Series: Genealogy Investigations #1
Publication Date: March 12, 2019
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Lucy's client, Austin billionaire Gus Halloran, has announced on live television that Texas senator Caleb Applewhite might be responsible for the murder of Seth Halloran.

Of course, Lucy is a genealogist, so the murder in question took place back in 1849. And it's possible that another nineteenth-century Texas politician may, in fact, have wielded the death blow. Lucy is determined to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt who the guilty man is, but when her curiosity lands her at the scene of another murder - this time, in the present-day - she realises that the branches of some family trees shouldn't be shaken.


This sat on my TBR for ages, and then I started reading it in April and it started off slowly enough that it languished bedside for almost 4 months.  Everything else I wanted to pick up yesterday qualified for Halloween Book Bingo, so I decided to just finish this one off. This book ended up being much better than I expected.

Lucy is a professional genealogist, researching the family tree of one of the more prominent Austin families when she stumbles upon evidence that a long ago ‘accidental’ death of one of her client’s ancestors was actually a murder, paid for by a man with the initials C.A.  As she tried to find out more about the people surrounding this 150+ year old crime she discovers that someone in the here and now is very much invested in what happened all those days ago.

The story starts off slow, and frankly a little bit immaturely, but about half way through the story got interesting as it became apparent how the author was going to make a 150 year old crime relevant enough for someone to kill over in the present.  The writing also got better; it’s standard cozy fare, but it’s better than average once you get past the frivolous party attitude prevalent at the start.

The solution was, perhaps, trying too hard to be clever and Lucy’s little justifications of genealogy a bit tedious, but overall it was a mystery that surprised me.  I had no intention of reading another one after the first 75 pages, but by the end I found myself willing to read the second one to see where it goes.

The Virgin in the Ice (Brother Cadfael Chronicles, #5)

The Virgin in the IceThe Virgin in the Ice
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780708825839
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5
Publication Date: March 12, 1984
Pages: 220
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Futura Books

Not the best Brother Cadfael I’ve read, but Hugh was back and that was worth 1/2 a star.  I might just even be in a grumpy reading mood, because, really, the mystery was crafted well enough, if the resolution was a tad weak.  The murderer had very little in the way of evidence against him, and yet Brother Cadfael and Hugh were quick to be certain.

Mostly, I disliked the protracted capture and battle scenes, especially as the captured was a 12 year old boy.  A different time and place, to be sure, but still not my cup of tea to read about the torture of children.

The ending was rather sweet though.

This was my third Christmas mystery in a row, and I’m beginning to feel like I should put a tree up.

 

The Vanishing Museum on the Rue Mistral (Provençal Mystery, #9)

The Vanishing Museum On The Rue MistralThe Vanishing Museum On The Rue Mistral
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143135296
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #9
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Pages: 323
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

I never know how to describe these mysteries; they’re written just a little bit differently than the standard traditional or cozy fare, and they’re one of the few written in third person.  They’re much closer to golden age in writing style than anything contemporary; no internal dialogs, no tedious descriptions of … well, almost no tedious descriptions of random things.  The Bonnets are gourmands, so there’s rather a lot of eating going on, and they’re in Aix-en-Provence, so it all sounds rather amazing.  But otherwise, sparse and efficient writing.

Someone has stolen an entire museum.  True, it’s a small museum, but nonetheless no small feat, with no witnesses and no clues.  Then a main suspect is murdered and another grievously injured and still the police are left frustrated.  It comes down, in true mystery style, to pieces put together not by the police themselves, but by their family members and friends, and the while the ending isn’t shocking, it’s clever and satisfying.  Enough clues are there for the reader to see the general direction things are going, but details are left for the big reveal.

These books are comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable reads.

Gift of the Magpie (Meg Langslow, #28)

The Gift of the MagpieThe Gift of the Magpie
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781250760128
Series: Meg Langslow #28
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Pages: 206
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I loved this book.  I missed out on it during the Christmas season, but it’s cold and rainy here down under, so it was the perfect atmosphere in spite of it being the last day of July.

There’s always something wonderful going on in Caerphilly, even if a lot of people get bumped off.  This time it’s a Helping Hands program, started by the towns’ churches’ interfaith committee, to help out people with small (or large) projects, run by volunteers lending their individual expertise.  The biggest project of them all is a notorious hoarder who is in danger of having his home condemned and his family having him declared unfit to care for himself.  Meg and the mayor get the Helping Hands involved and are helping him deal with all his stuff and make repairs to his home when Meg finds him bashed in the head in his garage.

The mystery plot wasn’t one of her best, though Andrews did a great job keeping the reader in a state of reasonable doubt, but the rest of the story was just lovely. Not a word normally associated with mysteries, but it was.  Though there was less emphasis on the Christmas spirit in this one, I loved the ending and I loved the surprises.  The only thing that I noticed (beyond a couple of minor continuity errors) was that of all her books, this one was probably the one where the titular birds (magpies) had the smallest role.  The birds have never been pivotal to the plots, so it’s barely worth mentioning.  Have I mentioned how much I loved the ending?

I eagerly await the next two books.

Terns of Endearment (Meg Langslow, #26)

Terns of EndearmentTerns of Endearment
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250192974
Series: Meg Langslow #25
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I read this book last year, but 2020 was a year full of cracks, and this book’s reading record and thoughts slipped through one of them.  I re-read it last night to brush up my memories.

I think the thing I love the most about Meg Langslow, after 26 books is her sheer competence.  Her family is quirky, and the mysteries are always good, but there just doesn’t seem to be any crisis that Meg, and the members of Caerphilly can’t handle with astonishing efficiency.

Terns of Endearment takes place on an educational wildlife cruise.  Her grandfather has been lured into a series of on-board lectures, but soon after the ship sets sail, a series of events leaves the ship stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  Dead bodies, sabotage, and on-board illnesses slow down the Langslow family not a bit and soon enough they’re sorting out the crew, the passengers and the mysteries.  It should be over-the-top, but it isn’t.  It’s inspiring.  I want to be Meg when I grow up.

DNF: A Dangerous Engagement (Amory Ames, #6)

A Dangerous EngagementA Dangerous Engagement
by Ashley Weaver
Rating:
isbn: 9780749024581
Series: Amory Ames #6
Publication Date: April 23, 2020
Pages: 382
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Amory Ames is travelling to New York, excited to be a bridesmaid at her friend Tabitha's wedding, but with Prohibition in full swing, her husband Milo is less than enthused. When a member of the wedding party is found murdered on the front steps of the bride's home, the happy plans take a darker twist.

Amory discovers that the dead man has links to the notorious - and notoriously handsome - gangster Leon De Lora. While the police seem to think that New York's criminal underworld is at play, Amory feels they can't ignore the wedding guests either. Milo and Amory are drawn into the glamorous, dangerous world of nightclubs and bootleggers. But as they draw closer to unravelling the web of lies the murdered man has left in his wake, the killer is weaving a web of his own.


I tried.  I walked away and gave it a few days, and tried again.  I couldn’t do it.  While the series started off strong, and interesting, it has bottomed out with this book, wallowing in mediocrity with bland and tedious descriptions of every little thing (they went to an automat; she describes what an automat looks like, then describes all the categories displayed, then describes Amory and Milo getting change for the machines, then getting their trays, then which food they’re choosing).  It’s endless.  And the paragraphs of Amory’s internal dialog outnumber actual dialog by at least 5 to 1.  I have decided that the abundance of internal dialog that has become so common in most of today’s mysteries is because authors and editors are forced to assume their average reader is stupid, and so lacking in critical thinking that they must be led through the steps of the mystery like a particularly dim child.  The misanthrope in me understands the likely necessity, but I am not stupid, and I’m quite capable of thinking critically, so I find the trend irritating.

Oh, and speaking of irritating trends: wonder of wonders, she’s pregnant, only she doesn’t know yet, even though it’s obvious even to someone like me, who has never so much as had a scare.  I’m willing to bet .50 cents that Milo will figure it out before she does.

And speaking of Milo – he’s an ass.  I’m assuming the author is going for something akin to insouciance, but really, just an ass.  He talks down to Amory more often than he ever has anything nice to say to her, and she just takes it.  It’s all way too stiff-upper-lip for my patience.

It’s a shame to see this series go to the dogs, but after this one I can’t imagine it rebounding in my eyes, unless Amory were to ditch Milo in some spectacular fashion, and that isn’t going to happen, so instead I’m going to ditch the series and re-claim valuable bookshelf space.

2020: How I read in a year that shall go down in infamy

2020, the year we all hope the door hits in the ass on the way out.  Hard enough to leave a mark.

I know a lot of people saw the stay-at-home orders and lockdowns dramatically improved their reading, but for me, when I was already in a mother of a reading slump, the beginning of the pandemic tanked what little reading progress I was making.  Add to that the forced move to a new book tracking site, and this was, without doubt, the worst reading year I’ve had in 20 years.

Most everyone following this blog knows I hate WordPress, but the silver lining is a book library plug-in I bought that does some nifty stats.  So without further ado, my reading stats for 2020, such as they are.

Overview Stats

2 years ago (I think?) I read 220 books, so, yeah, a slight downturn.  Average rating seems to be about the same though, so what I am reading I seem to be enjoying as much.

Another tell of a bad year, by average days to finish this year was 5 when it used to hover around 1.

While I was reading much less, I was, at least, still reading (except March, a complete write-off).  In spite of everything going on, you can see the slump’s regression as the year progressed.

Writing reviews, however, took a wee bit longer to recover.

Stats on what I read:

While my most read genres continued to be the same, the proportions were dramatically different for 2020.  Normally, Mystery and UF would be swapped.  (Fiction, btw, refers to anything not a mystery nor urban fantasy: contemporary mostly.)

The size of the books I read changed little as well.  My sweet spot definitely seems to be firmly in the 200-399 page range.  Seems there were a lot of short stories/novellas this year too.

It’s clear I need to re-evaluate my rating process.  I’m heavy handed enough with my 4 star ratings to warrant taking a close look at those books to make sure I’m not unconsciously shifting the curve, making 4 stars ‘average’.   I’d like to think I just read a lot of books that are just that little bit better than average, but you never know unless you look.

This is unchanged – although that 42% Unknown means I missed some data entry somewhere.  It’s safe to say they’ll all be either Hardcover or Paperback; I’ve read almost no audio this year, though it’s possible there might be 3-4 audiobooks in that Unknown.  Something to look at next year.

I was going to add my 5 highest rated and lowest rated, but looking at the titles, they aren’t anything anybody would be interested in.  My reading this year was truly coping related in many ways, including 5 star rating a bird ID book. ::shrug::

Book Acquisition

To me, this is the most interesting part of the site’s analytics.  Because I can track editions I own, I can get stats on what I’ve acquired over time and from where.

If there was any good news to my 2020 slump, it was that my acquisitions also slumped dramatically.  Good news because even with a whole new shelving system in my library, space remains at a premium, and mount TBR doesn’t need to be any higher than it already is.  Still, 73 new books were bought; at least that was fewer than I read though.

Nothing new here, I still like mysteries.  Because I’m trying to make genres adhere somewhat to standards, Fantasy is Urban Fantasy.

Also, nothing new here.  Ebooks and I are not friends.

This one’s fun – at least I think so.  At first I was disappointed at how many books I’d still ended up buying from BookDepository (because: Amazon) but I’m heartened by the fact that the vast majority of my books came from non-Amazon sources, and a fair few from independent booksellers.

So that’s it; the one thing that stats are missing is the ability to breakdown the gender of authors, for obvious reasons (I’m not inputting author data, for one), but I’m wholly confident that more than 50% of the books I’ve read this year are by women, mostly because every year, more than half the books I read are by women.

Book Goals for 2021

If I had any book goals for 2021, I’d do a seperate post for them.  But I don’t.  No goals.  Not even a total books read goal.  I’m just going to read and see where it takes me.

May God (or what/whomever you believe in) give us the strength to make 2021 better than 2020.