Month: February 2017

Review: Mistletoe, Moonlight and Murder

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Mistletoe, Moonlight and Murder3 of 5 stars for Carolyn L. Dean‘s Mistletoe, Moonlight and Murder, the third novella in her “Ravenwood Cove” cozy mystery series. I downloaded this book on Kindle a few weeks ago when it was on-sale, as I had enjoyed the previous two novellas and wanted to continue reading the series. While it was a fun story and introduced a few good new characters, it wasn’t as good as the first two.

Amanda Graham continues to remodel the inn she inherited from her uncle, opening up to lots of new guests as the town prepares for the Christmas holiday festivals. As she’s driving to meet her contractor in a nearby town, a huge mudslide occurs and envelopes the car in front of her on the road. When she runs out to save the victim, she realizes it’s James’ brother, Ethan. Just as she saves him from the collapse, and they are running away, she sees another body. But this one has been dead for months, and no one knows who it is! As James, Ravenwood Cove’s detective, matches the body to someone who ran away months prior, Amanda learns the victim was shot and had been hiding a necklace. Using her usual sleuth-like skills, she finds the necklace and helps the police solve the case. But this time, she’s just a little too late and ends up cornered by the culprit and almost killed herself.

While the mystery had some fun aspects to it, there were very few red herrings and hardly any real suspects. We learned little about the victim and weren’t sure who he was connected to. I stuck with the story and enjoyed the ending, but it was very rushed. Overall, it had good parts, but I felt like it was missing something.

Amanda’s friendships in the town are growing, and she’s becoming more of a solid root with a few core characters. She has a ways to go, but I feel like it will happen. I look forward to books 4 and 5 to see if they take an upward turn.

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Review: Forget Me Not

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Forget Me Not3+ out of 5 stars to John Hemmings‘s Forget Me Not, the first book in his “Mark Kane” mystery series. I downloaded this book when it was free several months ago and found it again yesterday when trying to clean up what I had and hadn’t read between Kindle for my PC, iPad and iPhone. Technology’s just too much sometimes! But this book wasn’t… it was just right and a surprising find.

A fun fact: this was a male author and a male protagonist, which is rare in a “cozy” mystery, so it was a good change of pace for my normal reads… But I wouldn’t exactly call it a cozy mystery (although there is no violence, no sex), especially since the author wants to follow in the footsteps of a Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. I have only read a few of those books, but it did evoke some reminders of the literary mystery classics… enough to push me to add a few more to my TBR list for future reads.

The protagonist, Mark Kane, is a PI who left law school and the police department, focusing on his analytical skills. He shares an office with some colleagues and has a Girl Friday, Lucy, his full-time friend and part-time lover. Kane, as he goes by, takes on a case to confirm whether a long-lost daughter is truly the girl Gloria gave up for adoption 40 years ago. Widower Greg is happy to share the inheritance between his two sons and his late wife’s daughter from a previous relationship, assuming the girl is telling the truth. Kane investigates, learns a few additional secrets along the way and stumbles upon a much more complicated family drama full of mystery. In the end, he’s forced to face a moral consequence of what is the right thing to do in a bad situation.

I like Kane. He’s funny, smart and direct. I didn’t like the Lucy character. She was a little too whiny and didn’t come across like the heroines of the classic mysteries. She felt like an afterthought, and her personality was a little immature as Kane’s counterpart. But she made several good points and highlighted when Kane treated her a bit poorly. Overall, she has potential and I’m hoping in future books, her character evens out a bit more.

The mystery was strong. It had all the right elements from the family drama whodunit to the necessary large inheritance and the mysterious death circumstances. And the supporting cast was fairly integrated without taking up too much side story space.

The writing was OK. Sometimes funny, sometimes very adept. But on too many occasions, I felt like it was repetitive, a re-hash of the facts. Some of it was when Kane was informing his client of progress, but several pages before, Kane was informing Lucy of his progress. It could have been merged better.

I’ll give the next book a chance as it’s a nice change of pace. Hopefully these smaller items often found in a debut of a series are ironed out.

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Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Cookie Massacre

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The St. Valentine's Day Cookie MassacreMy rating: 4 of 5 stars to Elisabeth Crabtree‘s The St. Valentine’s Day Cookie Massacre, the first book in the “Hatter’s Cove Gazette” mystery series. I downloaded this e-book for free several months ago and found myself with a few spare hours this evening… so I jumped on it and am glad I did. It was a really fun new series I look forward to reading more. I’ll even check for other series by this author.

Kat Archer has taken a job at her local paper, hoping to get back into her investigative journalism career, but her new boss has put her on the food critic beat until he can hire more staff. After several bouts of food poisoning, and a few death threats, she worms her way into colleague Simon’s news reporting to try and mentor him while finding better stories for herself. When her mother’s best friend requests that Kat cover the new opening of her cookie shop, Kat has no choice but to comply. And by the time the party’s over, she sees tons of gossip and feuds ripe for the picking. But it’s when she tries to meet a snitch later that night that she finds her first dead body. And her mother’s best friend is the prime suspect. As Kat tutors young Simon, deals with the arrival of a new detective she once knew in Miami and finds herself attracted to her new boss, the paper’s owner, she’s about to crumble like the cookie. She narrowly escapes survival after weeding through several potential suspects and in the end finds herself with the culprit, and sent back to the food critic beat until they hire someone new!

For a debut cozy, it’s really good. The plot and the complexity of the timeline in the crime is pretty organized and detailed… too many things have to add up for it to be each potential suspect, and someone has to be lying, but Kat can’t figure out who it is. You can tell a lot of thought went into the relationships built between all the characters in order to make this work so well. And it really did.

Kat is likable, a little annoying at times, but heading down the right path if she can keep her opinions in check from time to time. I like her budding friendships with her fellow colleagues at the paper. And her two potential love interests both have a nice shine to them.

It was a little too short and rushed at the end. I thought the author could have drawn out the suspense and the resolve for at least another 30 pages to really keep the reader guessing. But it was done well and I will definitely read another book in this series.

Nice work!

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Review: Dune, Dock, and a Dead Man

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Dune, Dock, and a Dead Man
3.5 of 5 stars to Carolyn L. Dean‘s Dune, Dock, and a Dead Man, the second book in her “Ravenwood Cove” cozy mystery series. While I found the first book a little better, this one was also good and helps bring more structure and appeal to the series. I like the main character and she’s starting to settle into Ravenwood Cove with ease, driving change in all the areas that were needed in the tourism-starved town.


Story

Amanda Graham has started making friends in Ravenwood Cove, and this time, she finds two friends who need help with men who won’t leave them alone. Jennifer, the woman whose father saved Amanda in book 1, is having trouble with the mob trying to locate information her father hid before he died. Meg, Amanda’s best friend, is having trouble with a man she met from an online dating site who is harassing her. When one of the men turns up dead, and the other potentially has a connection to the him, the town is in an uproar. As Amanda cozies up to James, the detective she’s been flirting with, she gets access to more police information. But when she starts finding connection to many of her new friends and the core families of the town, she’s concerned she may be close to the killer. When she puts all the clues together, one of the villains attacks her and the other admits his/her guilt and willingly goes off to jail. What’s crime-hunting coming to these days???


Strengths

The town’s setting and core families are filling out and readers get to know who’s who in this release. Relationships are forming and future plots are likely being assembled.

I like how the two plots weave in and out throughout the story. You think you’ve figured it out, then you are confused. The primary one was complex. There were two obvious leads, both of which you find yourself leaning towards, then you realize different people had different pasts with the deceased and a likely motive.


Suggestions

As complex as it was for a cozy, take it further! Add another 60 to 75 pages and draw out the mystery just a bit more so we feel fully engaged.

Tell us about the uncle’s secrets. It was mysterious in book 1, and I’d hoped it would keep growing… but no mention in book 2. Bring it back!


Final Thoughts

I like the series and it’s a good filler as an e-read in between physical books. Easy to get thru in 2 hours. I like the author’s style.

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Review: Sunny Side Up

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Sunny Side UpMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Sonia Parin‘s Sunny Side Up, the first issue in her “Deadline” Cozy Mystery series. I stumbled upon this free e-book last fall and thought it might be a fun read. As I was cleaning up my Kindle Reader on my iPad today, I re-found it and decided to give it a chance, since it was under 100 pages. Cute read, a bit simple, but has potential as a series.


Story

Eve Lloyd sold her NY restaurant and divorced her useless ex-husband, rented out her apartment on a six-month lease and took a trip to visit her aunt. But when she arrived, her aunt was gone and the townsfolk found Eve quite strange. She comes back from dinner with her aunt’s real estate agent and finds a dead body in her kitchen with a woman she’d only met the day before, claiming she just walked in on the dead body. As she tries to establish her own alibi, and prevent the townsfolk from thinking she’s guilty, Eve finds a few new friends and develops a crush on the detective. She’s captured by the perpetrator before the end and almost meets her own maker, but luckily the detective saves her. And Eve learns what her ex-husband did to try to save her.


Strengths

A cute, fun, simple read… nice intro to the cast of characters and the town. Easy for a light afternoon. Good beginning for a new series that shows promise.


Suggestions

It needs depth. Dialogue was a little combative in the beginning. Wish I knew more about her parents and why she’s so close to her aunt. Everything just sorta “comes together” as a setup for the series… just hoping it isn’t always like that as it would be too simple.


Final Thoughts

It’s a light-and-quick read in between complex plots or an emotional roller-coaster of a read. Give it a chance but look at it as just a couple of hours of fun.

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Review: If I Stay

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If I StayMy rating: 4 of 5 stars to Gayle Forman‘s If I Stay, the first of a two-book series and recently made motion picture. I first stumbled across this book when I saw the movie promo last year, and I recall thinking “oh, that looks like a great story.” I had just finished reading JoJo Moyes “Me Before You” series and felt they’d be similar in story and character. I went on my merry way, happily choosing from the physical books on my own bookshelf or my electronic digital subscriptions. (I always need to have 15 to 20 books on hand so it’s like a surprise when I choose a new book each time) And then, one day, while waiting for the dryer to finish in my building’s laundry room, I perused the small library next door (it’s awesome, my building shares books all the time and I constantly find new things to read!), and this book was sitting on the shelf. I grabbed it, tossed it in the laundry basket and well, went on with my day… but yesterday I needed to choose a new book and landed on this one, as I need to read it before I watch the movie perhaps this weekend. And it was an AMAZING choice!


Story

This is the hardest part to write in the review, as I’m not sure where to begin. This book was about so many things, so many, many things. I’ll keep it simple:

Mia is a beautiful, caring, intelligent and warm seventeen-year-old in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, sharing her days with her grandparents, parents, younger brother, best friend, boyfriend and mentor. She’s an accomplished cello prodigy nearing graduation with a choice in her soon-to-be future: move to NY for Julliard or stay closer to her boyfriend who needs to remain in Oregon. The thing is… Mia is the teenager we’d all love to meet and be around; she’s just amazing as is her family and everything else around her. And you know the cliff is coming, as you’ve read the book jacket cover and know there’s a terrible accident. But then it happens when you least expect it — and everything changes. Mia is somehow separated from her body and she watches as she’s rushed to the hospital for surgery. As she sleeps in a deep coma, her separated self wanders the hospital halls to learn what else happened in the accident (no spoilers here, so I won’t say who was with her when it occurred, nor what happened to anyone else). One by one, her remaining friends and family visit her bedside, possibly to say goodbye given her grave condition, and as each person sits near her, Mia’s separated self tells readers who they are, how they met, exploring key moments in her life… you fall deep into this tragedy as Mia must make her own choice: to stay or go — but it’s not about moving to NY anymore, it’s about whether she will stay alive or go [die].


Strengths

1. Writing: It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s evocative. It’s endearing. It’s thought-provoking. You won’t be able to put it down.

2. Characters: The entire story takes place over one day’s events, but through the story-telling, Mia recounts how she knows each person over her 17 years… and every person is wonderful and stunning and real. I want to be a part of this group.

3. Emotions: You will feel a lot. You will want to know what happens beyond the last few words of the final chapter. Good thing there is a book 2, but your imagination will think a lot about what could have been.


Suggestions

Too short and I wanted more? (~235 pages)

The only reason I didn’t give this a 5 of 5 stars is because I felt like it should have gone on longer… I want to know more about her struggle to decide if she stays or goes… to know how each person feels other than thru her eyes and ears. Maybe it will come in book 2, but as its own unit, I wanted more.


Final Thoughts

This is what I call a “contained” book. The story could be read on its own, or it could have sequels and prequels. Your emotions will be contained by the bounds of what you’ve learned in its 235 pages, and you will walk away from it as a changed person. Not in any magnificent way, but in a subtle way… one where you think about your own life and how you’d make a choice of staying or going, assuming you were in a similar situation as hers. This book makes you think for a few minutes, hours or days… and you won’t forget it. Contained because you’ll experience a journey in the time you read it, put it down, and after you’re on to the next book, it’ll feel like the impact was contained to just those few days where the pages were in your hands and the words in your dreams… but far into the future, it will pop back in your head as you wonder how you would have handled it.

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Review: And the Trees Crept In

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And the Trees Crept InMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Dawn Kurtagich‘s And the Trees Crept In, a suspense and horror novel that at points I wanted to give a 5, but at others, a 1. It was insanity wrapped up in a bowl of champagne (pure delight which I love) spoiled by mushrooms (the devil’s lurid food which I ate) and so forth. I settled on a 3… but not convinced of it.


Story

Silla and Nori show up on their aunt’s doorstep far away from their parents’ home, claiming their mother sent them for a visit. Aunt Cath finds it strange and worries that “he’ll never let them leave,” thus beginning the horror and suspense. As time progresses, Cath begins to go crazy and the trees that surround the house (initially hundreds of feet away) start creeping closer day by day. They hear voices. They see ghosts. They fear World War 3 has begun. The mail stops. And then it gets even crazier… Cath tells them the “Creeper Man” has come back, but then she disappears to the attic where she paces the floor nightly. Suffice to say… nothing is what it seems, and the crazy continues until the last twenty pages when it all comes together. But the path there is quite confounding and elaborate. <>

Strengths
The story is compelling. Two little girls frightened by either their imagination or something dark and real. But it happens every generation, just as it did to the girls’ mother and aunts. With each page, you feel the drama exploding and you are very intensely interested in what’s real and what’s blurry. You will definitely be drawn in by the characters and the plot.

Suggestions
Too little is left out. Until the end, you really don’t know the time frame of the story. Once you realize they are talking about World War 3, you realize it’s in the future, but uncertain how far. You know it’s in England, as they reference London a few times, but no real knowledge other than that. I believe it’s intentional, but I think it could have been done in a more clear way.

The formatting alters too frequently. Sometimes you are reading journal entries, sometimes you are reading narrative. The voice changes as character views change. I understand it’s intentional, and necessary in order to keep some of the story’s secrets, but I feel like it could have been done in a stronger way. For example (without giving away any secrets), more about what happened to the original young sisters should have been more dramatic, scary and eventful. We knew something happened, but not exactly what it was. If it had been more intense, the impact on the newer generation could have been more dramatic instead of erratic. Drama and suspense coming from reality is far more scary than something you know will end up being “made up.”

Final Thoughts
I found myself skimming the middle section a bit. It got repetitive. The editor should have cut about 25% of the middle to make room for true action and scare, instead of the over-use of the same words and dreams. It would have propelled the story much more, and likely created even more of a fear-factor. That said, it is still an interesting read, worth a gander for those who are fan of a mega twist, fear and the past-come-back-to-haunt-you. But go in with open eyes as you will read the same words over and over again until the point you need to word-vomit. I think that’s a new term… 🙂

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