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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Darkest Night

Darkest Night

Darkest Night by Tara Thomas (Romantic Thriller)

One of the things that drew me to this book was its setting – Charleston, South Carolina. This is the first book in the Sons of Broad series, which implies something location-driven (think Pat Conroy). It is not.

The setting is Charleston, but we could be in Omaha. We never hear anything about the city itself, and it has absolutely no influence on the story. There is none of the lush detail that transports you to its unique beauty, not even a single mention of Spanish moss.

If this book were the work of an indie author, I would be contacting her and suggesting she employ a good content editor. But this book is being published by St. Martin’s Press, and as such, it is a major disappointment.

It feels like a first novel that’s incorporating every storyline the author ever came up with, regardless of whether or not it contributes to a cohesive plot. Keaton is the youngest of three wealthy, handsome brothers: Kipling, Knox, and Keaton Benedict. He  miraculously discovers his spunky long-lost childhood sweetheart, Tilly, working in a gentleman’s club, heroically struggling to make her own way. They reunite and immediately fall into wild, passionate love. But then a crazed, conniving female fortune hunter (Elise), willing to commit blackmail and even murder to get Keaton to marry her, enters their lives. And, a dangerous, powerful villain (The Gentleman) is sending out his minions to destroy the Benedict brothers and makes Tilly his target. There’s also a vulnerable young girl (Jade/Kaja) working for The Gentleman. But she is strangely drawn to helping the Benedict brothers in spite of the fact that doing so will endanger her own life. She’s especially good at being in the right place at the right time. Oh, and did I mention the tough, no-nonsense female detective (Alyssa)? Or the fact that the Benedicts find their deceased father had another family?

The characters are flat but we do know they’re having good sex because we’re treated to all the details since this is billed as a romantic thriller. There’s not a real build-up of tension, but there are victims – dead or grievously injured – showing up regularly. And, because this is the first of a series, a lot is left unresolved. Tilly’s life is still in danger. The identity of The Gentleman remains unknown. Jade/Kaja remains on the run, and Kipling continues to flirt inappropriately with Alyssa.

If the prose were beautiful or the descriptions creative, this review might be nudged to three stars, but neither is true. The book starts with one of the brothers receiving a single, long-stemmed rose in a box, and the author doesn’t even bother to mention what color the rose is. When I found myself picturing a gray rose, I knew this book was in trouble.

Grandma gives Darkest Night two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Leftover

The Leftover

The Leftover by Brooke Williams (Humor)

In this book “The Leftover” is a “Survivor”-like TV show that pits twelve people against each other to become the last person left over. Megan Malone becomes a reluctant participant when her sister, Molly, is accepted but then bumped from the show due to being pregnant. Molly talks Megan into taking her place, even though Megan is a thirty-year-old recluse — never been kissed! — with few social or athletic skills. If she’s lucky, she’ll be voted off the show on the first day.

Meek, clumsy Megan, whose severe astigmatism requires her to wear her glasses even when swimming underwater, immediately falls head over heels for Cane, the show’s handsome medic, who is a former reality star in his own right, albeit a humiliated one. He fell hard for the girl on a dating show, but she chose someone else instead of him. Cane, still devastated and heartbroken, is nevertheless instantly drawn to Megan’s refreshing uniqueness as a shy girl who doesn’t wear makeup or comb her hair and has no fashion sense whatsoever.

This is billed as humor, but it’s not particularly humorous, unless being awkward is considered funny. Once on the set of “The Leftover,” Megan has to boil her drinking water, find her own food, and is sleeping on the ground in a lean-to amid a group of strangers who don’t exactly have her well-being in mind. Even so, she’s more interested in ogling Cane on the sidelines who, of course, is surreptitiously ogling her. When she’s not bumbling her way through tough competitions during the day she’s having heartfelt conversations with Cane in the medical tent, and at one point manages to grab his butt by mistake — leading to more awkward humor.

I did a lot of skimming in this book — mostly over the instant “romance” developing between these two — to find out which contestant was going to be eliminated each day, knowing it wasn’t going to be Megan. Would it be the jerk who bossed everyone around, the snotty woman trying to preserve her perfectly manicured nails, or — please no — the hunky blond male PE teacher with the nice eyes? Predictability and clean romance makes this book perfect for readers seeking a harmless piece of fluff.

Grandma gives The Leftover three stars. 3 stars

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

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series by Kenechi Udogu (Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy)

When I was contacted by author Kenechi Udogu, I agreed to read Book One of this series, Aversion. Ms. Udogu sent me the box set, and I’m glad she did, for when I finished Aversion, I needed to know what was going to happen next and ended up reading all four books. Since each book is more of a novella, reading the foursome was a reasonable undertaking and, in reality, the first three should have been a single book. (The fourth is a prequel.) Neither of the sequels to Book One is a stand-alone novel; they both require knowledge of the preceding book(s) in order to make sense.

Aversion and Sentient are told from the point of view of the protagonist, Gemma, who has always known she was different, but at the age of fifteen, going on sixteen, is still learning just how different she is. What I liked about her is that she’s basically a normal teen in a normal world but has inherited special gifts and responsibilities as an “Averter” — one who can step in and avert tragedy by telepathically convincing a potential victim to avoid the risky situation. Her gifts require her to keep her distance from peers and follow rules laid out for her kind, but when she becomes involved with classmate Russ, everything in her life changes and keeps on changing, not always for the good.

Keepers (Book Three) is told in chapters alternating between her point of view and Russ’s. After two books told only from Gemma’s POV, this was a surprise and took some getting used to. Constantly going back and forth allowed the author to build tension by ending the chapters at critical points, but as the reader, I found it frustrating to have the POV change just when I was getting used to the current one. This book wraps up the three-part story sufficiently but does not resolve everything, leaving room for future books, should the author wish to write more.

Broken Ties is the prequel to the other three books, relating the story of how Gemma’s parents came together. Again, it is told alternately by her father and mother, but this time the approach works well, since it’s fun to see how each perceives the other. Without prior knowledge of why this story is significant, however, I’m not sure a reader would find the ending sufficient to make this a stand-alone novella.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much. She had my interest from the first sentence and kept it all the way through. I can’t say enough about how much I liked the characters and the story. Unfortunately, the reading experience was lessened by annoyances like a constant lack of commas around the names of people when they were being addressed (“Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma”) which could have been avoided by a good editor (or a knowledgeable Averter). Run-on sentences and improper use of semi-colons also would have benefited from intervention. That said, I believe Kenechi Udogu has a real storytelling talent and her books are worth reading.

Bella gives The Mentalist Series four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

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

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (Suspense)

This is book two in a series that began with Everything We Keep. Unlike the first book, which was told from the perspective of Aimee, a young woman whose fiancé, James, was buried on what should have been their wedding day, this book is told from the perspectives of James and his alter-ego, Carlos, the personality who “replaced” James for six years due to a mental condition caused by trauma.

In book one, Aimee discovered that James was alive and well and living in Mexico as Carlos, with no memory of his pre-Carlos existence. In book two, the story-telling involves a re-emerged James in present day alternating with flashbacks to Carlos in the past and James in the past. Aimee makes a tiny appearance, but the focus is on present-day James’s angst over losing her, losing six years of his life, and gaining two traumatized young sons who suddenly have a stranger for a dad when James resurfaces and Carlos disappears. Can James be the father he should be to two children he doesn’t know? Should he try to win Aimee back after all this time, or should he let her be and try to make a new life for himself and his sons?

As in the first book, we have to contend with James’s highly unlikeable biological family, including his incarcerated brother, Phil, who is the product of incest between their mother and her brother. James’s abusive father has died, but we learn details about his nastiness, and we find out more about older brother Thomas who choreographed James’s disappearance and hid his survival from those who loved him. We also have Claire, the mother who treated James badly as a child, but once she learned of his existence as Carlos, traveled to Mexico to surreptitiously look after him as the benevolent neighbor he and his sons called Senora Carla. Now that he’s James again, how will that relationship work out?

Had I published a review for Everything We Keep, I would have given it three stars. At times it seemed too far-fetched to take seriously, plus I found myself annoyed by repetitive descriptions and phrasing; if Aimee dipped her chin one more time, I was going to scream. Everything We Left Behind has improved in those areas. However, the constant flipping back and forth between personalities and time periods became overwhelming so that I began skimming to move things along and get to the conclusion. The conclusion, as one might expect, left openings for book three, including the out-of-the-blue reappearance of a book one character who didn’t make sense then and made even less sense now.

As long as they don’t mind Aimee’s absence, readers who loved Everything We Keep will probably love this book, as it continues the saga of James/Carlos and his sister-in-law and answers the question of what happened to James six years before. Readers with no prior knowledge of James’s and Aimee’s situation, however, may have a harder time finding this tale compelling or suspenseful.

Grandma gives Everything We Left Behind three stars. 3 stars

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

Just One Life

Just One Life

Just One Life by Pat Abercromby

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. We follow Fran through roughly sixty years of her life, over half of it married to a man she never truly loves, a man for whom she settles because of his physical appeal but who lacks a sense of humor as well as a moral compass, is a poor communicator, and never provides the quality of companionship she craves. We watch her give up more than one satisfying career to live in places she doesn’t enjoy in order to accommodate her husband’s career, and we learn about the men she sleeps with and the ones she loves but cannot have. We know early on that she will become her husband’s reluctant caregiver after he has a debilitating stroke, and we experience her resentment about giving up all personal ambitions to take care of him in her old age. In short, we’re reading about the life of a woman who comes to regret how it all plays out. It’s not a very jolly topic.

We also follow, on the periphery, the story of her lifelong friend, Iona, who has issues of her own with the men in her life. We see Fran’s and Iona’s daughters grow up, and we learn about the difficulties and joys they bring and how the two women’s lives continue to intertwine. Because of the timespan to be covered, multiple years often pass in a single sentence, which can leave the reader feeling left in the dust. We know Fran well in some ways, but mostly we’re just voyeurs peeking through her windows, watching someone whose days and life are whizzing by without much detail, and we don’t feel particularly involved.

Without involvement, there’s little investment. Add to that the lack of any type of story arc, mystery, or real tension, and you have what is basically a human interest story. Upon reading the author’s guest post, I am guessing that this book is more autobiographical than not (emphasis on “guessing”), which would explain a lack of riveting plot points.

The writing is fine. The story has its interesting aspects. Would I have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to participate in this blog tour? I’m not sure.

Grandma gives Just One Life three stars. 3 stars

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

For our Guest Post from author Pat Abercromby, go here.

The Frog Theory

the-frog-theory

The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.