Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder

Brewing Up Murder by Neila Young (Cozy Mystery)

If you like cozy mysteries that are fast-paced with twists and turns and red herrings, this is not the book for you. Although it has the requisite murder or two, a heroine who owns a cute little business in a small town, and the family cop who talks too much, the story is short on real excitement.

Instead of getting down to her amateur sleuthing, the heroine spends an awful lot of time panting after two men she has just met— one who is “gorgeous” with “sculpted cheekbones” and the other a “Norse god” with “a sculpted physique.” She claims looks aren’t everything, then refers to a previous blind date as Dr. Pillsbury Doughboy, making it hard not to consider her rather shallow for a thirty-two-year-old. Of course, when two men with smoldering/velvety voices, flaring nostrils, full lips, and stormy eyes enter one’s life, who wouldn’t be distracted from the deaths of her friends?

I enjoy cozies (see Smugglers and Scones, The Book Club Murders, The Antique House Murders). I can overlook the unlikelihood of a police officer consistently disclosing crime investigation details to her sister, and I can even tolerate superfluous characters who do nothing to move the story along, including a gaggle of nosy book club women and the token gay guy. But the story details need to make sense. (**SPOILER ALERT**) As one whose family owns a small restaurant, I can say that the author and her editors need to know more about the likely distribution pattern of packaged goods like roasted coffee beans and what the actual possibility is of a half-strangled woman raising a commercial mixer’s stainless steel bowl high enough to hit someone in the head. They also need to watch for mistakes like giving the heroine two different middle names.

Bella gives Brewing Up Murder three stars. Although it’s not her cup of coffee, she believes some readers may want to fantasize about kissing away the lingering caramel macchiato foam on a handsome stranger’s full lower lip. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

 

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The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall (Historical Fiction)

The lives and career ambitions of two young women — one in 1949 and one in 2018 — intersect in this timely novel that seeks to show how much and how little has changed for women over a span of almost seventy years.

From 1941 to 1976, the New York City subway system held a beauty contest called Miss Subways. Placards featuring the individual winners adorned the subway trains, each young woman getting her fleeting moment of glamor and fame for a month. For Charlotte in 1949, the contest offered an escape from her father’s heavy-handed control of her future, as well as a possible break into the male world of advertising as a career. In 2018, Olivia faces cutthroat male co-workers in her New York City advertising firm as she makes a last-ditch effort to land an important contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

We follow each young woman in her own era in alternating chapters. Although there are a few surprises, I found much of it predictable and some of the coincidences a bit much. I felt like Olivia made some poor choices for a supposedly savvy businesswoman, and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Still, it is an interesting read for the historical aspects and a look at life in NYC, both post-World War II and present day.

Grandma gives The Subway Girls three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Subway Girls will be released on July 10, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

South of Main Street

South of Main Street

South of Main Street by Robert Gately (Contemporary Fiction)

In the fictitious town of Coalsville, Pennsylvania, Main Street divides the “haves” from the “have-nots.” The wealthy, like recently widowed Henry Wolff, live north of Main Street. But Henry is not your typical rich guy. The money came from his wife, and now his younger daughter wants him declared incapable of handling his own affairs in order to keep him from squandering her inheritance.

While this may sound like a dire novel of family feuding, it’s actually more of a Forrest Gump-like story. Henry suffers from a form of post-war PTSD that has him acting childish. His is a simple view of life that he shares with the troubled people he meets, including a boy with an absent mother and abusive father, a young female drug addict, and two homeless people. We watch him interact with people from both sides of Main Street in ways that are wise and compassionate but can be misconstrued as incompetent, if that is one’s goal. Fortunately for Henry, his elder daughter is willing to take on her sister in court.

This is a relatively slow-going book with a predictable ending, but that doesn’t stop it from being a worthwhile, feel-good read. It does contain some minor mistakes that would benefit from a good editing, such as the occasional change in tense from past to present and use of a wrong word. But overall, Robert Gately tells a good uplifting story.

Grandma gives South of Main Street three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

Manipulated Lives

Manipulated Lives

Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel (Suspense)

Five short stories comprise this book which, as the title states, presents tales of the manipulated and their manipulators.  Although promoted as suspense, they are really psychological studies of people who take advantage of others. As such they can be less than enjoyable reading unless the topic truly interests you.

I found some more compelling than others, especially those told from the victim’s point of view, as the stories often had a surprising twist or revelation. Others I skimmed because they simply made me uncomfortable. I’m the sort of reader who needs to make a connection with the characters in order to care about them, and it was difficult to do so with these stories.

That said, the writing was fine overall, except for one story in which some of the punctuation around dialogue tags was in need of a good edit. This is a hard one to quantify in stars as it comes down more to personal comfort with the stories than actual literary quality.

Grandma gives Manipulated Lives four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

 

 

 

An Accidental Messiah

The Accidental Messiah

An Accidental Messiah by Dan Sofer (Religious Fantasy)

Moshe Karlin and his fellow members of The Dry Bones Society are plenty busy in this  sequel to An Unexpected Afterlife. Moshe started The Dry Bones Society when he realized that he was not alone in being resurrected from the dead. Large numbers of new resurrectees are appearing in Jerusalem graveyards on a daily basis, and they need help in acclimating to their new circumstances. Unlike Moshe, who died two years before and was able to resume his previous life, the new resurrectees are coming from further and further back in history, leaving them totally unfamiliar with present-day Jerusalem and its occupants. Moshe now needs patrons with deep pockets and political influence in order to give the newly undead a chance to survive in modern times.

This book felt much more complicated than Book One as we follow a number of different story lines related to different characters. Some of the undead are doing their best to hide who they were the first time around, but Irina still can’t remember her former identity. Eli Katz is struggling to figure out if he really is Elijah the Prophet, while his girlfriend, Noga, has made a significant discovery regarding the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel but doesn’t know if she should go public with the information. Various sinister individuals are trying to derail The Dry Bones Society, putting Moshe Karlin, his close associates, and his family in danger. Plus there’s the foretold End of Days to worry about and the highly anticipated arrival of the messiah.

As with Book One, this novel is full of Jewish religious lore and a strong sense of place as we follow the assorted characters on their adventures in Jerusalem. For me, it wasn’t as much fun as the first book where the entire concept was new and the characters a little more lighthearted. Some things are resolved but many more await Book Three. Dan Sofer is a good writer, and while none of the characters really resonate with me, I remain interested in how their situation will resolve itself.

Grandma gives An Accidental Messiah four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young (Suspense)

Sexting is the topic of this excellent courtroom drama. Fourteen-year-old Graylin has a nude photo of a classmate on his cell phone, and someone has tipped off the police. Graylin didn’t take the photo; someone Snapchatted him anonymously, but he took a screenshot and now faces charges of possession of child pornography. He hasn’t distributed it or even shown it to his best friend, but if he is found guilty as charged, this straight-A student and all-around good kid will go on record as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Compounding the odds against him is the fact that he is a black kid with an ex-con for a dad and a drug-addicted mother who has disappeared from his life. His school friends and family and his attorney, Angela Evans, are all black, as is the author, which gives this novel a welcome freshness in point of view and experience. And, it is a fast-paced, all-absorbing story that was hard to put down.

The story is told through the eyes of several individuals, including Graylin, his friends and family, Angela, and also The Shepherd, a sex trafficker who specializes in kidnapping children. As book three in the Dre Thomas Series, it continues the story of Angela’s boyfriend, Dre Thomas, whose niece was taken by The Shepherd. His testimony has put The Shepherd in prison, and The Shepherd is out for revenge.

Author Pamela Samuels Young is an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system, and online safety is one of her areas of interest. Sex trafficking in the United States is another topic she covers in an effort to raise awareness about dangers facing young people today. Abuse of Discretion makes a thought-provoking statement about current-day sexual permissiveness in advertising, movies, and television: How can we blame today’s children for accepting as normal what we have allowed to become ubiquitous in their environment?

Grandma gives Abuse of Discretion five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.