Book Review: Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Mr. Monk #3
by Lee Goldberg
read by Angela Brazil

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When much of the police force calls in sick as part of a contract dispute, Monk is asked to take on the role of a captain in the department. Though this means he’ll be betraying his friends in the department, Monk can’t resist the allure of getting his badge back. Unfortunately, San Francisco suddenly seems to be in the midst of a crime spree, and the squad Monk is given command of make him look almost normal by comparison. Almost.

Well, 3 books into this series, and I’m calling it quits. For now. Maybe I’ll try again later when I’m looking for something else to listen to. I love the show and have watched it several times through. Unfortunately, that means that I’ve also seen this story done before. At least part of it. The main part. There are two mysteries that happen in this book, one being the serial killings that kick the story off. And the way it played out was the same as an episode in which Monk has his badge back for a little while (the episode came after the book was published, so it’s not a rip-off…maybe the other way around though). So that does tend to bring the enjoyment down some, considering that I easily guessed at what was going on.

The three detectives Monk is saddled with as captain, though, brought the enjoyment down even more. I guess they’re supposed to provide humor, them all being so outlandish, but seriously…it just smacks of ineptitude on the part of whoever hired them. One of them has a radio taped to her head when we first see her, for goodness sake, a full-blown paranoid conspiracy theorist. One is so old he can’t even remember his own name half the time (and that’s not hyperbole), and the other is trigger-happy. Each of them comes with their own assistant, à la Monk’s Natalie, and frankly, I can’t find the humor in any of it. It’s just too over-the-top ridiculous, the kind of thing I might cringe at but live with when watching the show, but when hearing it described by pseudo-Natalie, I just can’t.

It’s too bad, too, because there were some really funny moments early in the story. Things that remind me of why I love Monk so much. But they didn’t occur much after that, definitely not enough to elevate the rest of the book. If you’re a fan of the show and think you’ll enjoy the book, though, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try. I don’t think you even need to start at the beginning, since I haven’t seen any real correlation between the books so far.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers
A Woman of WWII Mystery #2
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Poppy Redfern’s writing has gotten noticed, and she’s been made a scriptwriter for the London Crown Film Unit to help showcase British civilians who are heroes in some way to the war effort. Through this job she meets women pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose job it is to fly new and repaired planes to military airfields throughout the country. While working on the script for the film about these ladies, one of them dies in a spectacular crash that is attributed to pilot error. But Poppy is not so sure it was an accident and starts asking questions that don’t exactly relate to the script she’s writing.

I really liked this book, though not quite as much as the first one in the series. The world-building and atmosphere were just as good, but the characters were just a little weaker. And the mystery plot was mostly done well, but I was left scratching my head a little at the end. There was a clue given near the beginning of the story that was never actually used in any way, unless I simply missed it. Still, the story played out well.

I love the history that this series brings to life, and learning about the ATA and Attagirls was the best part of the book. The American fighter pilot Poppy grows close to in the previous book, Griff, is in this one as well. Readers hoping to see their relationship ramp up may be disappointed, but I personally don’t mind the struggles they’re going through, only partly related to the differences between their cultures. Poppy comes to realize during this book that she may be offering Griff more than just “British reserve” due to her own past, but Griff shows that he can handle it. I wonder if we’re seeing shades of the author’s relationship with her husband, she being British and he being American. Either way, it’s a much more realistic-feeling “romance” than most you find in books, and I like it.

Poppy’s continued inner voice of the main character of the novels she’s still writing is a quirk that doesn’t detract from the novel at all, in my opinion. Like the previous book, I enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. I may have to wait half a year for the next book to come out, but I’ll definitely be watching for it.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii

Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii
Mr. Monk #2
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery

Unable to handle his assistant Natalie going to Hawaii and leaving him alone, the defective detective Adrian Monk takes a pill to combat his many phobias and OCD tendencies and tags along. Once the dose wears off, he’s back to being his normal self, which includes ruining a wedding and Natalie’s vacation. But more importantly, it means classifying an accidental death as a murder and getting himself involved in the investigation.

Let me just say right off that I hate “the Monk.” I hated him in the television episode he appeared in (“Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine”, the last episode with Sharona…and you know, I always suspected that was the real reason she left) and I disliked that he made an appearance in this book. Fortunately, this drugged state of the main character didn’t last long, but I certainly hope the author of this book series doesn’t plan to resurrect him every time he needs to put Monk in a situation he would normally avoid. For goodness sake, there’s a very good, touching reason Monk stopped taking the pills the first time, and for him to completely disregard that cheapens the great respect he still has for his late wife.

Now that that rant is out of the way, the book was another nice re-visit with a television show that has long-since ended (this series came out while the show was still on, but they’re all new stories to me). I felt pretty immersed in the island setting, often going away from the heavy tourist areas to see everyday life on the island. The accent of the detective that they worked with was done very well by the narrator, and I’m not sure it would have come across nearly as well if I read the book myself, so that’s a major check in the audiobook column. I still don’t love her depiction of Monk himself, but I’m sure trying to imitate the voice of an actual person (the actor who played the role) is more difficult than narrating other books.

My biggest gripe, and the reason that I may eventually have to stop reading this series, is again that the author just seems to not have the best handle on Monk. Monk using pop culture references, like a reference to Michael Jackson, is just not true to his character. And he was far more concerned about Natalie’s injuries and sunburn at one point in the book than I feel like he would be–not even a mention about the mess her blood was probably making, for example, and he was…well, “tender” is the best word I can come up with, and Monk really isn’t tender. And Monk at his most normal self isn’t really about going out and having fun, yet we’re to believe that he plays miniature golf? And well? When, exactly, is he going out and hitting balls at windmills without his assistant knowing about it?

The book is more good than bad, despite what it may sound like above. There are some funny moments that remind me of why I like the show and characters so much. But there’s a reason that the character in the TV show has the problems he has–he’s brilliant and can solve basically anything. Without some major handicaps, he’d be too good, and that would be boring. He needs something to hold him back, to be the main conflict for the show, and that is his OCD and phobias that do tend to distract him and make him self-absorbed quite often. If this series continues to grind those edges down, I probably won’t be able to keep reading it. For now, though, I’ll see what the next one holds, and for those who might be interested, it does look like many others aren’t as bothered by these things as I am, so if you’re a fan of the show, don’t let me stop you from giving the series a try!

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Book Review: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
Mr. Monk #1
by Lee Goldberg
read by Laura Hicks

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Mystery

When a firehouse dog is murdered, the defective detective Adrian Monk’s help is enlisted by his assistant’s daugher Julie. During the course of the investigation, Monk discovers that the dog’s death might be connected to a fatal house fire. His work is hampered, though, by the fact that he’s been displaced, due to his apartment building being fumigated. Though she knows it will be difficult, his assistant Natalie offers to take Monk into her home while they solve the murders.

Fans of the television show Monk will likely find this a good read. All of the characters we love are involved, the story seeming to take place not too long after Natalie becomes his assistant. It’s not directly tied to any episodes of the show, though, and is a brand new plot. It’s narrated by Natalie, and I enjoyed it as essentially a longer episode of the show. In a way, it seemed like a mash-up of 2 different episodes (“Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” and “Mr. Monk Stays in Bed”), but it’s unique enough to not just feel like a rip-off of one of those episodes.

The author does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of each of the characters with one execption–Monk himself. As someone who has seen the show in its entirety several times, I kept noticing things that just seemed very un-Monk-like. The most glaring was him holding a glass of milk, milk being high up on his list of fears. But he was also frankly a little too warm and tender toward Natalie and especially Julie. Though Monk can be kind, he is also often quite selfish, or at the very least, so wrapped up in his own issues that he doesn’t easily take others’ thoughts or feelings into consideration. He also called Julie “honey” at least once in the book, which just felt so wrong.

Overall, as a way to get more Monk in my life, the book was fun to listen to. The narrator was pretty good with the voices–I especially liked her Stottlemeyer. However, her depiction of Monk left a lot to be desired. I just kept putting it into Tony Shaloub’s voice as I listened. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I liked this book a little more than the first one. That’s mostly because Amelia’s haughtiness and disdain were toned down a little, or at least focused on Emerson, which made for some fairly amusing interactions between the married couple. However, there was such a rehashing of elements from the first book that it made it a little dull. There’s the curse angle, which all of the local workers believe in, making the work more difficult. There are sightings of some sort of supernatural being that scares people. There’s the one woman that most of the male characters are falling over themselves to win the hand of. Overall, a lot of it felt like it had been done before.

I liked the introduction of the cat Bastet and the revelation of the true identity of one of the characters. I disliked the way Amelia kept feeling the need to allude to her and Emerson’s private moments. Overall, I don’t think I was invested in the story as I would like to be when reading a mystery. Whether or not I continue the series remains to be seen, but keep in mind that there are many positive reviews, so if you are a mystery reader and/or like the setting of this series, the book might be a good read for you.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

After a grand escape game and a library-fied version of the Olympics, Mr. Lemoncello brings his favorite 12-year-olds (though I’d guess some are probably 13 by now) a game that sends teams on a much grander adventure–across town in bookmobiles and across states in his banana jet. But trouble is afoot when Kyle’s team uncovers evidence that Mr. Lemoncello plagiarized his very first game. Will his newly honed research skills be enough to clear his hero’s name?

After loving the first book in the series and enjoying the second one as well, this one didn’t seem quite as good in the end. The required suspension of disbelief is much higher in this one, both because these kids are allowed to take private jets to other states and even NYC without any real adult supervision, and because my past observation of most of the kids just being over-the-top knowledgeable was ramped up in this one. Not only do some of these kids know just about every juvenile book ever written, plus have an extensive knowledge of the Dewey decimal system that they can mentally search whenever needed, but now some of those same kids know vast amounts of information about historical events and figures like the Wright brothers’ first flight. It’s all just a bit too much to swallow.

I did still like the puzzles and riddles along the way, though. I enjoy being able to solve some of the clues along with the kids, though that was certainly lighter in this one. The more of these grand-scale games Mr. Lemoncello dreams up, the bigger they seem to have to be, which is somewhat understandable from a fiction stand-point, but seems like it’ll be difficult to sustain. And strangely, while the game itself is grander, the prize is…considerably less so, though that might just be from an adult’s perspective.

The mystery that came up in the latter half of the book and stalled the great game was interesting, as it was quite the reflection of the way the general public will believe nearly anything if they’re given a convincing enough presentation, no matter if the facts back it up or not. Parts of the mystery were predictable, parts not so much, and in the end, while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the first two, I know that the things that brought it down the most for me are going to be more noticeable to an adult than the age group the book is meant for. My 10-year-old daughter loved this book as much as the previous two, and I think it’s safe to recommend it for kids around 8-12.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #2
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

After their big win in Mr. Lemoncello’s escape game, Team Keeley is challenged by basically every kid in the country. They all want their chance at stardom (starring in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello games) and are unhappy that the contest was so localized. So Mr. Lemoncello grants them their wish, because hey, that means he gets to create more games! The top teams in each region of the country are chosen and invited to Ohio to compete for full college scholarships–against Kyle’s team. The only problem is that Kyle isn’t so sure he’s up to the challenge this time.

After the pure fun I had with the first book, I knew this wouldn’t be able to be quite the same. For one thing, it’s not so much with the escape room aspect anymore. There are puzzles involved in the games, but it’s not nearly the same as it was in the first book. However, it’s still a fun read, and even has a bit of mystery. So while I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did the first book in the series, it was still good.

For all the similarities to Willy Wonka in the first book, this had even more. Including a particular bit that I guessed at from early on, comparing a character to a role in Roald Dahl’s book. Even still, though, the book did keep me guessing a bit as I waited to see if I was right. And unlike the “justice” in Wonka’s world, it’s nice to see some of the “bad” kids have a change of heart by the end of this book.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that it was unrealistic how much knowledge some of these kids have–Kyle is about the only one who doesn’t come across like he lives and breathes books and studying. That was much more noticeable this time. Still overall, it’s a good book, fun for kids, and I continue to recommend it for kids around 8-12 and for parents, especially those who like games.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders
A Woman of WWII Mystery #1
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Newly trained Air Raid Warden Poppy Redfern takes up her post in the small English village of Little Buffenden, where an American Air Force airfield is about to open. The airfield could make this otherwise quiet hamlet a target for an air raid, but the Germans aren’t the only danger to Little Buffenden; trouble is much closer to home when two women are murdered only days apart. When suspicion is cast upon the Americans at the airfield, distrust for the “friendly invaders” surges in Little Buffenden. Poppy begins to investigate while continuing her duties as warden and trying not to end up as the next victim.

This book was all sorts of great! The descriptions made the story come to life, and though there were quite a few characters from the village and neighboring airfield involved, the author did a great job of helping me keep them all straight as I got used to them. Poppy had a wonderful mixture of spunk, loyalty, compassion, and intelligence, with a little quirk thrown in (it’s not that strange to have the main character of the novel you’re writing pop into your head with observations or admonitions now and then…or so I’ve heard).

I really liked the feel of this small town in 1942 England, where they’ve been at war for much longer than their American allies, not to mention more directly affected. The things the Air Force men take for granted, like having sugar and beef readily available, were luxuries to the locals. The attempts made by Poppy and her grandparents to help their fellow villagers see the Americans in a different light showed the great wisdom of this family. And though there are some bumps along the way that were a little frustrating, the American pilot that works with Poppy, Griff, was one of my favorite characters. Also, I’m not a dog person and don’t normally care much about dogs in fiction, but Bess was pretty great.

I would classify this as a cozy mystery–it has all of the earmarks. I had guessed who the murderer was much earlier than I normally do, but I wasn’t quite certain, and the reveal was still done really well. However, the book does probably have a little more description of violence and disturbing images than you’d normally find in a classic cozy mystery. That’s not to say that it’s very much–it didn’t bother me at all, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for some of that kind of thing–but enough that I thought it was worth mentioning if I’m classifying it as “cozy.” All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. There’s a second book in the series so far, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #1
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure, mystery

Game-lover Kyle Keeley is desperate to win a spot in the overnight sleepover at the new, state-of-the-art local library. The library was designed by his hero, Mr. Lemoncello, who created pretty much every board game and video game Kyle loves. When the overnighter turns into a lock-in (literally), Kyle and his fellow 12-year-olds have to figure out how to escape.

My 10-year-old daughter convinced me to read this book, and by convinced I mean pushed, cajoled, and pestered me until I got to it. She loved it and was sure I would too. She was right! It’s a quick, mostly simple read, and once the lock-in part started up, it was the most just pure fun I’ve ever had reading a book.

Once morning comes, the kids have to find clues and solve puzzles in order to try to escape and win the big prize. The story is basically Willy Wonka meets escape rooms, which is right up my alley. But even better, it’s an escape room played in the entire 3-story (plus the basement) library! I was seriously jealous. Mr. Lemoncello is a really entertaining character, and the kids have distinct personalities, for the most part. I will say that the knowledge base for some of these kids was pretty unrealistic, but it didn’t really bother me. It was just too fun!

I think something else that is important, since the book is written for kids, is that my daughter is a huge fan. She’s read the first 4 books in the series and was ridiculously excited to find out that a 5th one came out a few months ago. I’ll really enjoy continuing this series and being able to talk to her about the books as I go. I think this is a great book for kids around 8-12, and for parents too, especially those who like games.

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