GPL Blog

Book Review | Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

From the publisher: In New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s ingenious fifth literary whodunnit in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, Detective Hawthorne is once again called upon to solve an unsolvable case—a gruesome murder in an idyllic gated community in which suspects abound.

I love Anthony Horowitz. His writing and his mysteries just work for me, and every adult book he writes is a must-read. (I confess, I don’t love his series for kids, Alex Rider.) I adored Magpie Murders, both the book and the miniseries, and I love the Hawthorne and Horowitz books. It’s fun seeing an author write himself into a series as somewhat of a clueless dolt. (When Horowitz asks Hawthorne to tell him the solution to an old murder case, Hawthorne replies, “You never know the solution, mate. That’s what makes your writing so special. You don’t have a clue.” Ha! (p. 65 of the ARC))

This book is pretty different from the previous Hawthorne and Horowitz books. In the previous books, the author has watched Hawthorne solve a mystery and then written a book about it. In this book, he writes about a murder that happened years before. So, unfortunately, the pair don’t spend much time together this time around. Still, I get it – the author needs to keep things fresh for himself and his audience.

I often don’t even try to solve murder mysteries, but Horowitz throws in so many details and so much misdirection and then makes the clues pay off, so I do try to pay attention. (No, I did not figure out what was going on in Close to Death, any more than the fictional Horowitz did.) I also enjoy how English these books are.

“I have never been a huge fan of so-called ‘locked-room’ mysteries,” complains the fictional Horowitz as the real-life Horowitz proceeds to write one. Ha! (p. 184 of the ARC) I had a bit of a hard time with this one in one respect, trying to figure out how he could actually turn this into a published book given what would need to be revealed, but that’s beside the point. I know they aren’t true crime, but clever fiction. And I know these books aren’t done because we still need to find out what happened in Reeth!

I read an advance reader copy of Close to Death from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on April 16 and will be available in multiple formats at the Galesburg Public Library. The library owns the whole series in multiple formats. If you want to read the first four books, start with The Word is Murder.

Cooking the Books | The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Welcome to Cooking the Books (where we try recipes found in, well, books!) This month, Children’s Assistant & STEM Specialist Ms. Meghan tried out a recipe from one of her recent reads:

Just in time to finish up Women’s History Month, here’s a historical fiction novel that follows four British women as they cope with food rationing, grief, and societal pressures during World War II.

I’ve had an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of The Kitchen Front on my Kindle for years now, and just never got around to it. Cooking the Books has once again knocked another book off my TBR (To Be Read) mountain. I just wished I enjoyed it more.

I’m in the minority here. TKF has a 3.97 star rating on Goodreads and a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The novel details the lives of four British women from varying backgrounds as they compete for a spot on a radio program during World War II. Rationing was in effect at this time, and the book opens with the weekly allotment for one adult. A stick of margarine, half a stick of butter, three pints of milk, one cup of sugar…very different from the way we eat today. The radio program, based on an actual one, helped women stretch out their rations with creative (sometimes very creative) recipes. I enjoyed this look at an aspect of the war that I hadn’t seen written about before, especially in the crowded field of WWII novels. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked.

Overall, I found the book to be flat, predictable, and breezy. I am all for breezy books that give your mind a break, but that’s not how this one is advertised. The characters do a lot of speaking out loud; the author definitely does a lot more telling as opposed to showing. Perhaps because I didn’t enjoy it, I also found myself nitpicking. A character says he wasn’t aware that another was in the contest, then on the next page asks why the efforts to sabotage her had failed. A barn owl hoots instead of screams. Little things that should have been caught by the editor. Without giving away spoilers, a major life-changing decision is flip-flopped in the span of three pages. This just wasn’t the book for me, but as I said, it is the book for a lot of people.

There are a number of starter, main course, and dessert recipes featured in the book from historic sources, all of which adhere to the Ministry of Food rationing to various degrees. Unsurprisingly, there was an active black market for ingredients, and those who could afford them didn’t go without. Many of the recipes offer a lot of flexibility, which is to be expected when working with limited ingredients. For various reasons, I declined to attempt The Ministry of Food’s Sheep’s Head Roll or Chef James’s Whale Meat and Mushroom Pie. Instead, I made Audrey’s Fruit Scones. I vaguely remember making scones 20 years ago. This recipe contains a lot less sugar than modern recipes and produces a…perfectly adequate vehicle for getting butter and/or jam to your mouth. The apricot flavor was good, with comments that it ‘could use more apricot, less scone’ but other than that? Eh. A coworker said ‘mostly good, a little bland – but aren’t all scones?’. It does produce an incredibly wet, sticky dough; if you think you’ve got enough flour on your surface, think again.

Scones: 2.5/5 (based on all opinions)

Book: 1/5 (based on my opinion)


The Recipe


Audrey’s Fruit Scones

Makes 12 scones



3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups dried fruit (raisin, sultanas, red currants, apricots, prunes, etc.)
¼ cup butter
¼ maragaine, lard, or suet (I used margarine)
1 egg, beaten, or the equivalent in dried egg powder
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Sieve the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and dried fruits and mix. Cut the butter and margarine into small pieces and rub it in. Mix the egg and milk and slowly add until the dough is a stiff consistency. Roll it out into a thick layer, about 1 inch thick, and use a floured cutter to cut it into circles. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 10 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Book Review | How to Solve Your Own Murder by Kristen Perrin

From the publisher: For fans of Knives Out and The Thursday Murder Club, an enormously fun mystery about a woman who spends her entire life trying to prevent her foretold murder only to be proven right sixty years later, when she is found dead in her sprawling country estate…. Now it’s up to her great-niece to catch the killer.

How to Solve Your Own Murder has been called the biggest debut of 2024. It’s the first book in the Castle Knoll Files. In a familiar pattern, the book moves between passages from a diary set in the 1960s and narration by Annie, the main character set in the present.

It’s 1965. Frances is 17 and at the Castle Knoll Country Fair with Rose and Emily, her two best friends. She receives a fortune that will change her life. Like most fortunes received from fortune-tellers at a country fair, it is filled with nonsense that can be interpreted in many ways. But Frances can’t shake it. It also includes the dire warning that “All signs point toward your murder.” In what seems to me to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, she becomes obsessed with her fortune. And sixty years later, she is murdered.

The obsession with a fortune that later comes true is a nice twist. Otherwise, the book is familiar in a comforting way. If you like cozy mysteries, it will probably remind you of books, TV shows, and movies. There are a lot of characters and I could have used a list of them and how they are related. I had an especially hard time keeping the men of the past straight. There are hints at a future romance for Annie. Annie also devises a too-stupid-to-live plan to catch the murderer, which works, but I hope that does not become a pattern. The author does her best to sell her red herrings and misdirection, perhaps to excess.

Still, it’s a fun book, and I’ll probably read the sequel. The cover is very eye-catching.

I read an advance reader copy of How to Solve Your Own Murder from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on March 26 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | A Deadly Walk in Devon by Nicholas George

From the publisher: A retired San Diego police detective embarks upon group walking tours in England’s most scenic counties in the first in a charming new mystery series set in the English countryside.

is a debut novel and the first book in the Walk Through England Mystery series. In it, a group of Americans on a guided walk in Devon, England, includes a man named Gretz. I’ve read a lot of cozy mysteries, and Gretz is right out of cozy mystery central casting. The grouchy, hard-to-get-along-with, unlikable man who is obviously going to be the murder victim and about whom other characters say, “If you did kill him, we don’t blame you.” (p. 148 of the ARC)

I’d guess the author has also read a lot of cozy mysteries. Besides the unlikable victim, we have the bickering couple, the clueless Chief Inspector, the attractive young new widow, and a whole cast of suspects hiding secrets. I hope in the sequels that the author can strive for a little more originality, instead of a cookie cutter cozy. I think we might see some of the walkers return in future books, and maybe they will be fleshed out a little. The climactic confrontation of the killer was truly eye-rolling in its implausibility.

I love England and have yet to do a walking tour, so the premise of this book appealed to me. Unfortunately, there is not as much “walking” as I had hoped. Once the murder occurs, the group stays in one place. Still, I enjoyed the English setting.

The book is narrated by ex-detective Rick Chasen, and at one point he mentions that he likes whistling as he walks. That would certainly be grounds for murder if I were on a walk with the guy. Although this is marketed as a debut, there were references to the main character’s previous cases which originally made me wonder if I’d missed something.

At one point Chase’s walker friend Billie jokes, “I’ll kill you if you don’t. Oops. Guess I shouldn’t be joking about murder, should I?” (p. 131 of the ARC) Is the author poking fun at cozy cliches or just being cliched? I can’t tell. The main character is supposed to be a huge baseball fan, but I wondered if the author is. At one point the main character muses, “I often looked at my success rate through the lens of baseball, where batters typically fail to get a base hit seven out of ten pitches.” (p. 170 of the ARC) I think he means seven out of ten at bats. I read an advance reader copy, so maybe that will be fixed when the book is published. I do give the author points for trying to redeem Bill Buckner, who is unfairly blamed for costing the Red Sox the World Series in 1986. Although I felt like the author made some rookie errors (ha ha) in his debut, I enjoyed it enough that I might read book two.

The cover is very attractive and I imagine similar matching covers on the whole series that will look great together. If you enjoy the sometimes outlandish stories in M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin series, you may enjoy A Deadly Walk in Devon.

I read an advance reader copy of A Deadly Walk in Devon from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on March 26 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | The Road to Murder by Camilla Tinchieri

From the publisher: In the latest installment of the acclaimed Tuscan Mystery series, the sole witness at a crime scene speaks only English, and ex-NYPD detective turned amateur chef Nico Doyle is summoned by the local carabinieri to help.

I’m always looking for good books set in Italy, and I’ve found an enjoyable series in the Tuscan Mysteries by Camilla Trinchieri. I have an Italian friend who tells me I need to read books by actual Italians, and I think Trinchieri fits the bill. Her father was an Italian diplomat and her mother an American, and she has lived in Italy and the United States.

The Road to Murder is due out in March and is the fourth book in the series. I’ve also read the first three books. I think that each book has gotten stronger, as is often the case with long-running series. The main character, Nico Doyle, is a widower who moved to his dead wife’s hometown. He’s also an ex-detective from New York. When a murder occurs in book 1, the local maresciallo asks for his help, since they don’t have many murders in idyllic Tuscany and Nico has a lot of experience. This pattern continues in each of the books. (Nico is evidently not good luck, since murders occur with regularity now that he’s a local!)

I love the Italian setting, the Italian words, the descriptions of the Italian landscapes and the Italian food. As I’ve gotten to know each recurring character, I like them better. There is one character who quotes a lot of Dante and a cute little rescue dog who’ll be a lot of fun if this ever becomes a TV series. I do find it a little odd that an American civilian is allowed to participate so fully in solving murders in an Italian city; maybe, at some point, he’ll actually get a job on the force.

This series is a fun cozy police procedural. If you enjoy Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, you might like it. I read an advance reader copy of The Road to Murder. When it is published in March, the Galesburg Public Library will add it to our print and ebook collections of the series. If you want to start the series, book 1 is Murder in Chianti.

Book Review | Cascade Failure by L.M. Sagas

From the publisher: A high-octane, sci-fi adventure featuring a fierce, messy, chaotic space family, vibrant worlds, and an exploration of the many ways to be—and not to be—human.

Cascade Failure is a debut novel and the planned first book in a series set in space. A ragtag found family crews a wonky but space worthy vessel known as the Ambit. The beings aboard include Eoan, a sentient AI who captains the ship; Saint, a Guild member who has been around the block more than a few times; Nash, a handy engineer who can fix (and shoot) anything; a Guild deserter named Jal with body modifications and long history with Saint; and Anke, a brilliant hacker who is a complete unknown to the crew after they rescue her from a dead planet.

There’s nothing particularly original here, but if you like the TV series Firefly and works by Becky Chambers, you may enjoy Cascade Failure. This is about action, shooting, regrets, space, politics, computers, and not worrying too much that anyone important will die in the end. It was a fun read, and the kind of “first in a series” that might be better on a reread after a few more books have been added and I’ve gotten to know the world and the characters better.

I found the action scenes very hard to follow at times and might have enjoyed them more if I’d listened to the book on audio. So far there is no more than a hint of romance; the crew’s bond is based on friendship and shared experiences.

I read an advance reader copy of Cascade Failure. It is scheduled to be published in March and will be available through the Galesburg Public Library in print, as an ebook, and on audio.

‘Tis the Season: A Cozy Celebration of Hallmark Christmas Movies at Your Library!

Get ready to deck the halls and cozy up with a cup of cocoa because the library is spreading holiday cheer with a delightful collection of Hallmark Christmas movies on DVD! Whether you’re a sucker for heartwarming romances or enchanted by the spirits merry and bright. Dive into the enchanting world of Hallmark Christmas movies with our selection, featuring three delightful tales that capture the essence of the season.

Check Inn to Christmas

Julie Crawley, a determined lawyer eyeing a promotion, takes a holiday break in her hometown, Crestridge, Colorado. There, she reconnects with Ryan Mason, a fellow Crestridge native, sparking a romance. Both families are locked in a feud over prime property, threatened by the looming Edgestone Corporation’s plans for a modern resort. As Julie and Ryan’s love grows, they hatch a plan to unite their families and save their community from corporate takeover, blending romance, holiday spirit, and a dash of business savvy in this heartwarming tale. Can they bridge the gap and secure a future where love triumphs over rivalry?

Director: Sam Irvin; Cast: Rachel Boston, Wes Brown, Richard Karn, Christopher Cousins; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

Christmas Comes Twice

Cheryl Jenkins, Deputy Director at the Federal Science Association in Washington DC, reflects on a pivotal decision five years ago that derailed her dreams of becoming an astronomer. During her Christmas visit to Wellsboro, she mysteriously travels back in time to that fateful week, aiming to reshape her past decisions. With the chance to fix a disastrous date, guide her sister’s career, and avoid meeting her current boss, Cheryl navigates the complexities of altering her past while cherishing moments with her mentor. As she attempts to forge a different future, Cheryl discovers new perspectives on relationships and life’s unexpected turns.

Director: Michael M. Scott; Cast: Tamera Mowry-Housley, Michael Xavier, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Zarrin Darnell-Martin; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

Christmas Land

Jules Cooper, a thriving New York businesswoman, inherits ‘Christmas Land,’ her late Grandmother Glinda’s enchanting Christmas-themed village. Faced with the choice of selling to a real estate tycoon or revitalizing the magical haven, Jules encounters Tucker Barnes, the charismatic lawyer managing the estate. As she navigates the complexities of decisions in both life and love, Jules discovers the transformative power of Christmas Land and the potential for magic in her own life during this heartwarming holiday tale.

Director: Sam Irvin; Cast: Nikki Deloach, Luke Macfarlane, Jason-Shane Scott, Maureen McCormick; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

12 Gifts of Christmas

Anna, a struggling painter facing financial challenges, lands an unexpected job as a personal Christmas shopper for Marc, a rigid corporate executive. Through their collaboration, Marc discovers the true essence of Christmas giving, realizing it’s about the thought behind the gift rather than its cost. Simultaneously, Anna finds unexpected success as an artist, exploring a path she never anticipated. In this heartwarming tale, both characters undergo transformative journeys that extend beyond the holiday season.

Director: Peter Sullivan; Cast: Katrina Law, Aaron O’Connell, Donna Mills, Melanie Nelson; Runtime: 1 hr. 23 min.

Christmas in Love

In the quaint town bakery famous for its Christmas Kringles, aspiring crafter Ellie Hartman finds herself at odds with the new CEO, Nick Carlingson, whose modernization plans could jeopardize jobs. Assigned to teach Nick the art of making Kringles, Ellie aims to prove that success lies in the people, not machines. As their paths intertwine and Ellie grapples with her entrepreneurial dreams, she discovers the warmth and kindness in her community. However, a glimpse of Nick’s automation plans on his laptop leads to feelings of betrayal. When Nick reveals his future ideas, Ellie faces a choice—whether to trust him and take a leap of faith in pursuing her own dreams.

Director: Don McBrearty; Cast: Brooke D’Orsay, Daniel Lissing, Mary-Margaret Humes, David Keeley; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

With Love, Christmas

Melanie Welch, a diligent producer at Farnsworth Advertising Agency, is vying for a promotion as Creative Director, with colleague Donovan Goodwin as a contender. Despite Donovan’s indifference to Christmas, they’re tasked with creating a heartwarming ad for a crucial client. Complicating matters, Melanie draws Donovan’s name for the office’s Secret Santa, leading her to explore his preferences through a fake email. Unbeknownst to her, Donovan is in a similar situation, harboring feelings for Melanie. As they collaborate, their connection deepens, culminating in a heartwarming Christmas ad idea inspired by Melanie’s family festivities. In the process, they exchange meaningful gifts, revealing their growing understanding of each other.

Director: Marita Grabiak; Cast: Emilie Ullerup, Aaron O’Connell, Rebecca Davis, Lindsay Winch; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

Window Wonderland

In the bustling Manhattan department store of McGuire’s, ambitious Sloan Van Doren competes with laid-back Jake Dooley for the coveted role of the next window dresser during the festive Christmas season. Tasked with creating captivating storefront windows, their rivalry intensifies as they vie for the attention of passersby, and a silent but mutual attraction blossoms. Complicating matters is Sloan’s well-to-do boyfriend, Kenneth, who fails to grasp the significance of the job. Amid the contest, McGuire’s veteran window washer Mac and spirited bathroom attendant Rita add their own romantic subplot. In this holiday tale, love is in the air, but unexpected twists challenge the outcome of the love triangle.

Director: Michael M. Scott; Cast: Chyler Leigh, Paul Campbell, Naomi Judd, Terence Kelly; Runtime: 1 hr. 26 min.

Looks Like Christmas

In a heartwarming holiday tale, two type-A single parents find themselves in a spirited competition for control of the Christmas holiday festivities at their children’s middle school. As they clash over organizing the perfect celebration, what begins as a fierce rivalry turns into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and a realization of the true meaning of Christmas. Amid the joyful chaos, both parents open themselves up to the possibility of a new romance, discovering that the magic of the season extends far beyond the battle for holiday supremacy.

Director: Terry Ingram; Cast: Anne Heche, Dylan Neal, Sean Michael Kyer, Farryn VanHumbeck; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

Christmas List

In this enchanting Christmas tale, Isobel Gray’s meticulously planned storybook holiday with her boyfriend takes an unexpected turn when he goes AWOL, leaving her alone in Fall River, Oregon. Armed with a Christmas bucket list filled with cherished traditions, Isobel finds herself entangled in a tempting new romance with Jamie Houghton, a charming local contractor and volunteer fireman. As Isobel navigates the challenges of completing her festive checklist, she begins to question whether Brett, her absent boyfriend, is truly “the one.” Will Isobel find a White Christmas ending under the mistletoe, or is a new chapter of love waiting to unfold in this perfect Christmas town?

Director: Paul A. Kaufman; Cast: Alicia Witt, Gabriel Hogan, Peter Benson, Wanda Cannon; Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.

Spooky Season Selections

Halloween is almost here, m’dears! I recently had the chance to do some traveling and get caught up on four horror/Gothic/spooky adjacent books from my TBR (To Be Read) list/mountain, and I want to share the bounty with you. We’ve got YA, we’ve got adult, we’ve got vampires, tree creatures, parasites, and more! So grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and a blanket and settle in for some spooky reads. Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas From the publisher: Vampires and vaqueros face off on the Texas-Mexico border in this supernatural western from the author of The Hacienda.  I loved The Hacienda. I reviewed it for this blog back in 2021. And once again, Isabel is teaching me Mexican history via horror novels. This time the setting is 1840s Mexico near the Texas border. While The Hacienda was full of Gothic elements, VoEN is much more character Read more »

Book Review | The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson

From the publisher: A spectacularly spine-chilling novella in which an American art student in London is invited to join a classmate for the holidays at Starvewood Hall, her family’s Cotswold manor house. But behind the holly and pine boughs, secrets are about to unravel, revealing this seemingly charming English village’s grim history.

The Christmas Guest is a small bite of a read, a little snack that can be read in one sitting. It’s immersive and fun and a bit disturbing. We hear from two voices: Emma Chapman, the English student who lives at Starvewood Hall, and Ashley Smith, the American classmate Emma has invited home for the holidays. Ashley speaks to us through the words she pours into her diary.

The author pulled me in right from the Dedication: “For two aunts – Pearl Taylor Moynihan, who disliked Christmas, and Sue Ellis Swasey, who doesn’t particularly like it either.” The dedication is followed by an Epigraph that calls out to A Christmas Carol.

The novella opens with our narrator, living in New York and alone on Christmas Day except for her cat, sorting through her crowded bedroom closet. She comes across an old diary, written by a friend thirty years ago. Although hesitant to “go back in time to that annus horribilis, that murderous year,” she cannot stop herself and begins to read.

The author pokes fun at himself and his “gothic” novella, with Ashley, the diary’s author, revealing that things are both exciting and creepy and almost willing herself into a gothic romance or thriller. (“Chance of gothic thriller murder mystery: Growing by the minute.”) There are a few twists, but in a weird way, this is a comfort read for the cozy mystery reader. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where the story is going, but the atmosphere makes it worth the read.

The cover is amazing – cute and cozy but also sinister. I read an advance reader copy of The Christmas Guest from Netgalley.

It is scheduled to be released on October 17 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. (Although it comes out in October, I recommend waiting until Christmastime to read it. 😊)

Book Review | The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis

From the publisher: A delightful novel about alien invasions, conspiracies, and the incredibly silly things people are willing to believe—some of which may actually be true. Part alien-abduction adventure, part road trip saga, part romantic comedy, The Road to Roswell is packed full of Men in Black, Elvis impersonators, tourist traps, rattlesnakes, chemtrails, and Close Encounters of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth kind.

The Road to Roswell is a screwball science fiction romantic comedy. A woman travels to Roswell to be her best friend’s Maid of Honor and is kidnapped by a tumbleweed alien while she is wearing a neon green, glow-in-the-dark bridesmaid outfit. The tumbleweed takes her on the run, then kidnaps a con man, a true believer of alien conspiracies, a professional gambler, and the driver of a large mobile home.

There’s nothing particularly original here, but the story is a lot of fun (if a little long). The author works in a lot of pop culture references that add to the story, and I enjoyed the southwestern setting. This book would probably be especially fun to listen to on a long road trip.

This is science fiction that doesn’t take itself – or humanity – very seriously. There is a lot of sly, subtle humor, and even the unlikable characters are likable. The many references to western movie tropes were especially fun, and there are a lot of nods to “kidnapped by an alien” tropes as well. There are some plot twists – not very well hidden plot twists – and commentary on the gullibility of humans who Want to Believe in whatever conspiracy theory they’ve latched on to. I found the ending a bit flat.

The Road to Roswell reminded me of the author’s book Crosstalk but also Men in Black, Little Miss Sunshine, the funny episodes of the X-Files, and Project Hail Mary.

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Road to Roswell and other books by author Connie Willis in multiple formats.