Book Review: Fool Moon

Fool Moon
The Dresden Files #2
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard available for hire in Chicago and is sometimes called on by the police to help solve crimes where magic is involved. So when a series of murders that happen around the full moon show other signs of involving werewolves, Harry is on the case. But will it prove to be too much for him to handle?

I was not as big a fan of this second book as I was the first in the series. I’ve read that the series gets better after you get into it (though how far into it varies widely), but while this one started off similarly enough to the first, it did not have as much of interest to me. It wasn’t so much a mystery as it was police procedural, and even after the case was basically solved, there was a lot of book left, which turned out to be mostly fighting. It doesn’t help that I usually find werewolves boring in any iteration. I did appreciate that there were various types of werewolves, but since I was listening to the audiobook and couldn’t easily go back to remind myself of which was which, it mostly confused me.

I’m finding some formula in the series that I really hope Butcher steers away from soon enough—like how Murphy keeps believing Dresden to be a bad guy (not that he helps the situation by not telling her the full truth, but she can’t manage to be understanding of how his hands are tied) or how Harry just gets beat up…so…much. Still, I enjoyed some humorous moments and lines, and there was a bit of a twist at the end involving one of the werewolves. Overall, the book just felt like it dragged on, but I’m still looking forward to continuing the series. I can’t pretend that I’d recommend this book in general, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade anyone from trying the series, especially if you’re a fan of mystery and detective noir novels, and enjoy or at least can tolerate the addition of supernatural elements (and the content warning below). In particular, if you like to listen to audiobooks, I recommend the narration by James Marsters.

One final note, something that was worse in this book than in the previous—there is quite a bit of sexual content. After my husband finished the audiobook, he commented on how, with the couple of female werewolves, every time they were in a scene, whether they were fully clothed or not (one of them was naked in at least 75% of her human-form page time), the narrator felt the need to remind us that they had certain female parts. And he was right…they were referenced often. I really hope this doesn’t remain at this level. There’s also some language, but not actually as much as I anticipated. And there’s certainly some violence, much more than the previous book (werewolves are beasts). My tolerance on things like these is fairly low, especially compared to the average reader, and while I do plan to continue, I really hope the level of sexual content, at least, doesn’t stay this high.

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Book Review: Quest for the King’s Crown

Quest for the King’s Crown
Last Chance Detectives #6/7*
by Robert Vernon

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

Mysterious strangers and very old skeletons launch the Last Chance Detectives into another case, this time searching for treasure!

This series takes place in the mid-90s, though I sometimes think the author takes some liberty with the technology available at the time. Still, this story was fun, with some twists and turns that kept it interesting. There are some things that happen that I felt were unlikely enough to lower the rating by a star, because while kids may not pick up on those issues, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a story with a tighter plot. I also think the kids themselves and their personalities take a bit of a backseat to the grander plot, but overall, it was a good addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and really hope the author is planning more, especially considering the tiny crumb we’re given about Mike’s missing dad in this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Quest for the King’s Crown
Publication date: November 8, 2022
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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Book Review: Storm Front

Storm Front
The Dresden Files #1
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard available for hire in Chicago and is sometimes called on by the police to help solve crimes where magic is involved. He also takes other cases, and when he’s asked to track down a missing person while also working on a murder case for the local PD, Harry is relieved that he might just be able to pay his rent this month. However, tracking down someone who kills with magic, which is not just illegal but also forbidden in the magical realm, requires more than a little investigating. And the missing person’s case turns out to be more involved than he’d thought or hoped, too. Suddenly, Harry has a lot more to be worried about than whether or not he’ll be evicted.

I am so glad I finally decided to give this book series a chance. I enjoyed so much about it and was interested from start to finish. The author drops the reader right into the middle of this magical world, which feels very real, due to the way Butcher mostly explains some of the magical mechanics almost off-handedly, rather than as a big info dump. It almost felt like I’d jumped into the middle of an ongoing series, even though this is book #1, but not in a bad way that made me feel like I was struggling to understand. I did have some confusion early on, but not enough to lessen my enjoyment.

The mystery/detective side of the story was interesting in its own right, but add in the vampires, fairies, and demons, and it was more of a thrill ride. I also really appreciated the wit throughout the story, which I picked up on in the first few chapters. And I have a feeling that Bob could become a favorite of mine.

I knew what I was getting into, as far as content goes, but for anyone who doesn’t really know—there is quite a bit of sexual content, though nothing gratuitous. Even when Dresden spends a decent stretch of time naked, the reader isn’t reminded of it constantly, and in fact, I forgot a few times that he was naked. There’s also some language, but not actually as much as I anticipated. And there’s certainly some violence, but again, it’s not gratuitous. All of these content issues together aren’t enough to discourage me from continuing the series (and my tolerance is fairly low, especially compared to the average reader).

I listened to the audiobook narrated by James Marsters, which I’ll admit went a long way to pushing me to finally start this series. I highly recommend the book in general, and his narration specifically. If you’re a fan of mystery and detective noir novels, and enjoy or at least can tolerate the addition of supernatural elements (and the content warning I gave), you should give this book a read.

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Book Review: Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod

Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
Last Chance Detectives #5/6*
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When a car from the past with a ghostly driver begins to terrorize motorists near Ambrosia, the Last Chance Detectives are on the case.

Though this series started in the 90s, this book was written and published this year (2022). It still takes place in the mid-90s, which does tend to limit what the reader might suspect is happening, especially given the genre of the series. However, the target audience (8-12 year olds) would probably not try to solve the mystery while reading and instead simply enjoy the excitement and suspense. And even though I found myself unable to stop speculating on the technique used by the “bad guy,” I did still really enjoy the story. The descriptions of the driver were sufficiently mysterious and even a little creepy, and the way the Last Chance Detectives worked to solve it was smart and interesting.

I like that this series doesn’t generally follow the modern trend for kids books to have the kids breaking rules, ignoring adults, and generally being disrespectful as they protagonize their way through a story (no, that’s not a word, but I like it). Mike, Ben, Spence, and Winnie are just as curious and determined as I remember them being in the LCD movie I grew up watching (The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa). And even better, Winnie gets a little more depth to her character in this book (was she shown to be artistic before? If so, I don’t recall). The feud between her and Ben was amusing, and even realistic in the way it began to be less amusing to their friends as it went on and got in the way of the investigation. The culmination of that was a serious heart-stopper for me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the way the author went with that in the end. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if the overall series wasn’t so ingrained in my childhood—though I never read any of the books back then and only watched the one movie, I watched it so many times that when I read the respective book for the first time recently, I read many of the lines in the same inflection as the actors said them in the movie.

Overall, this was a great addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and am looking forward to the next one.

Find out more about Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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Book Review: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four
Sherlock Holmes
#2
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 34 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written. I’m slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories for the first time. This was not my favorite. The mystery wasn’t nearly as interesting as others have been; in fact, it was a bit bizarre. It’s the book where Watson meets the woman he ends up marrying, but that relationship didn’t grow in any particularly interesting way either. Overall, the story just felt slow and not very memorable.

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Book Review: Millstone of Doubt

Millstone of Doubt
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #2
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Both fledgling agents for the crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann individually need to figure out their roles and places in the spy network as well as their “normal” lives. When Juliette’s best friend’s father is killed, Juliette is told to stay out of the investigation, but Daniel plunges headlong into it. Meanwhile, Juliette is still in the middle of her debut season, and Daniel’s lifelong patronage by a mysterious benefactor will soon be coming to an end, leaving him in an unknown position. How will they navigate these difficult situations and deal with their growing feelings for each other?

I may have rated this book a star less than the previous book in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. The overall world that Vetsch has set up in this series and the one it’s connected to, Serendipity & Secrets, is one I really hope I don’t have to leave any time soon. Juliette learning to become a spy, using her training in real-world settings while trying to get over her weaknesses, but still having to act the role of a debutante, is a fun mixture. Daniel’s combining of his police work with spycraft isn’t as much of a stretch, but it still allows for some panic moments as he tries to keep his secret. There was also a great moment when Daniel’s friend and co-worker Ed gives him a little speech about the goodness of God, even when we don’t see it in our lives, that I really liked.

The mystery was overall good. I liked the different paths they went down trying to solve it; mystery is a favorite genre of mine, and this one was enjoyable. I did guess who the killer was pretty early on, but wasn’t 100% sure I was right until a while later (but before it was revealed). There was another mysterious aspect unrelated to the murder that I also figured out early on, but I still liked the way it played out. The story slowed down enough in the middle that I detracted a star, but overall, I really liked this book. I highly recommend it for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, though that aspect is more in focus in this book than the previous.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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Book Review: The Mummy Case

The Mummy Case
Amelia Peabody #3
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

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

After some time away, the Emersons are returning to Egypt for a dig, this time taking their young son Ramses along. When Amelia suspects that a suicide might actually be foul play, her husband doesn’t agree. Then strange things begin to happen in the area around their not-so-exciting dig site, and Amelia sees connections where Emerson just sees random misfortune. First Amelia has to convince him that something is afoot, and then they have to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

My synopsis probably doesn’t do the story justice, but I found myself equal parts lost and bored while listening to this installment in the series. And I think the reason I got lost at times was due to my mind wandering, because the story simply didn’t capture my attention as the books before it did. I’m not completely sure why, either; maybe I’ve already grown tired of the formula of this series? But I also think it’s partly because the mystery was super slow in getting going. After the death that Amelia suspects is a murder, it’s mostly just them getting on with their dig and meeting lots of new people for quite a while. Little things that keep the mystery in mind happen, but nothing all that exciting.

I think part of my issue is with Ramses, though. He’s an amusing character, but only to a point. I don’t honestly know how old he’s supposed to be in this book, but I’m guessing around 7. And he’s super smart, can translate ancient languages, solves much of the mystery alongside (or ahead of) his parents, and speaks with a speech impediment. And he always obeys his parents, but finds loopholes in what they tell him to do (or, more accurately, in what they neglect to say he can’t do). I also grew quite weary of Emerson’s (and Amelia’s, to a lesser degree) disdain for Christianity and Christian missionaries. There were a few humorous moments in the book, but not as many as I remember in the first two. Since much of my dislike of this book was personal preference, and it’s clear that many others enjoyed it, if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Egyptology, you might want to check this book out. If you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: The Debutante’s Code

The Debutante’s Code
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Returning to London after years away for school and just in time for her debut season, the last thing Lady Juliette Thorndike expected was to learn that her parents had been called away and that she’d have to face her debutante ball alone. On second thought, the absolute last thing she expected was to discover that her parents are spies for the British government, as is her uncle, and all of her family before them. But as she’s thrust right into the middle of a dangerous game of espionage, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann is put on the case of a stolen painting that soon becomes a murder investigation. And the supposedly untouchable aristocracy of England, especially Juliette and her family, are right at the center of it.

Oh, goodness. Coming off a month of mediocre reads, this book really had my heart soaring, and not just because of the connection to Vetsch’s previous series (more on that later). There’s so much I loved about it, like the relationship Juliette had with parents she hadn’t seen in 7 years. Through their letters, she still felt connected to them, and was receiving early spycraft instruction unawares. The way Juliette discovered the big family secret was perfect, especially since I was expecting a simple eavesdrop for her to hear the truth (it’s so much better than that!). The more she gets into the family business, the more she questions the ethics and morals of lying for a “good cause,” echoing my own thoughts exactly. And I appreciate that there are no easy answers, either for her or for the male MC, Daniel Swann.

He doesn’t get much of a mention in the synopsis, but he’s an equal part in this story, and I really enjoyed his character and backstory, his drive to figure out the truth and tenacity despite some fairly crappy odds. His personal life is a bit too much to into in the synopsis and is clearly going to stretch on to the next book in the series, and I’m really glad for that. While most books of this type, even those in a series, tend to be more stand-alone, I’m looking forward to a continuing series with the same characters, diving into the spy world of Regency England, and seeing what develops between Thorndike and Swann.

Now let me talk about how excited I was to realize that this series is taking place in the same world as Vetsch’s previous series, Serendipity & Secrets. I loved that series, and one character in particular was my favorite. Now to find him in this book as well? I can’t even express my joy! I don’t want to say too much, though if you know the other series, you can probably guess what the connection here would be. To be honest, I do believe I should have anticipated this, given the similarity of a certain aspect of both series. But I didn’t, and that made it all the more exciting when he appeared here.

Though the mystery in this book was not super hard to crack (for the reader), that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t completely off in some of my theories. I did guess some things right, but also had a few surprises near the end, one of which actually made me a little giddy (and I’m not normally a particularly emotional reader; me using that word is a testament to how much I loved this book). I confess I was pretty confused about the actual events that led to the spy work Juliette and her uncle were doing, I think due to the way certain terms were used during the explanation, but I had it (mostly) all sorted by the end. And I find myself frustrated by the official synopsis for this book (not the first time this has happened with one of this author’s works), considering that Swann’s suspicion of Juliette doesn’t actually come until more than 3/4 of the way through the book. Still, I highly recommend this book for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, because there is some, but it’s not the focus of the book. But I would also really recommend checking out Serendipity & Secrets, and maybe even consider reading that trilogy first. You won’t be sorry.

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Book Review: A Treacherous Tale

A Treacherous Tale
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #2
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

American Molly Kimball loves her life in Cambridge, running the family’s old book shop, dating the most eligible bachelor in the area, and meeting the author of one of her favorite books growing up. But when a man dies outside the author’s house, Molly finds herself thrust back into the darker side of the picturesque town, once again trying to prove the innocence of people she cares about.

I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about the first book in the series but felt it was worth pressing on when the second came out. But I think I can better express why I probably won’t continue on after this. To start with, the main character, Molly, is just so weak. Personally, I prefer my mystery detectives to be less papery-thin and more willing to push through disturbing situations. She all but falls apart every time she has a sudden flash of inspiration about the case. Her friends and family are always noticing the unhappy expression on her face and coddling her as she tells them the sudden realization.

And speaking of those realizations, half the time they are pretty obvious things for her to suddenly realize. Like Molly herself, the mystery was also weak, especially to me as the reader, because the narrator practically spoon-fed me every bit of information, even making detailed connections for me (some of them more than once), so I certainly couldn’t help but follow along (or, in some cases, get ahead of her). And including the entire text of the fictional book involved in the story was a good idea in theory, but in the end, I didn’t see how it really added to the story. I kept expecting it to provide some kind of major insight for both Molly and me. I also kept expecting some kind of surprise twist about what was REALLY going on, because it was pretty bland and simple overall. This makes it all the more unrealistic that the police can’t figure out who really did it and need Molly to lead them to the bad guys. Even the brilliant ex-MI-5 agent needs Molly to tell him that they should keep a discovery a secret, so as not to alert the bad guys to the discovery (after which Molly proceeds to tell everyone she knows about it).

In the end, what I did like about the first book didn’t give me as much enjoyment this time. Everyone that Molly likes is almost too perfect (especially her boyfriend), and the few people she doesn’t like are mostly alike in their flaws and are thrown under the bus. The descriptions of every meal or snack eaten and every outfit worn dragged the story down for me. I am confident in saying that there are a lot of people who will enjoy the setting, characters, and mystery in this book/series more than I do, but for me, it’s over.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about A Treacherous Tale
Publication date: August 23, 2022

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs (take 2)

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 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 listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). However, I went back to the first book in the series, read by a different narrator, and found that I liked the different voice a lot more. So I’m continuing on with a do-over on this 2nd book too, which was as far as I got in the series before. And like with the first book, I enjoyed this one more with the different narrator. I still felt that there were some elements that were too similar to the first one and wished it had been more of a departure. However, I was able to better appreciate the repartee between Amelia and Emerson, their gruff-but-obvious adoration of their far-too-brilliant son, and the contributions from the cat Bastet.

I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series for the first time, now that I’ve found a narrator I like. I do hope that every book won’t include a beautiful woman that all of the male characters (except Emerson) wants to marry and manifestations of a curse that scares the local work force. Still, people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology might want to check this book out. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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