Sundays are for Writing #88

This has been a rather hectic writing week, as I crammed everything into four days instead of five. But: five book reviews, finished up the last four lessons in the Maggie Stiefvater class, and a bit on the Chasing Shadows revision, so I’m happy.

I’d like to give a bit of explanation for my ratings in the reviews I write. I probably should have done this when I started rating reviews…but it seemed self-explanatory. Except my ratings are more nuanced than five stars=a spectacular book. I read a lot. Like, a lot. But just because I loved a book, doesn’t mean you will. And just because something bothered me in a book, doesn’t mean it will bother a single other person on the planet. A review is an opinion, and we all know what they say about opinions.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a one- or two-star rating on a review here. Because if I think the writing is that bad, or I dislike the content that much, I won’t finish reading the book. (It took me years—most of my life—to embrace the freedom of not finishing a book that was a bad choice for me.) Writing is hard work, and I refuse to give a bad review to a book just because I don’t like it a bit. That’s disrespectful to the author and the work that went into creating the book. And, just because I don’t care for the book, doesn’t mean you won’t, either.

So, as a general guideline:
-5 stars means I loved the book. It might have a few issues, but I loved it anyway.
-4 stars means I liked the book, possibly loved parts of it. A solid read.
-3 stars means I thought it was good enough to finish—but there was something I
didn’t really care for (could have been a writing issued, could have been a character
I found annoying). The writing might have been superb—which I’ll mention—but if
the MC is whiny and annoying, that detracts enough that it knocked the rating
down.
-anything with a decimal number means it leaned towards the next number up (So,
the character was annoying, but not that annoying.).

Again, my reviews are my opinions. We don’t all have the same tastes or pet peeves or preferences. That’s what makes us individuals. If you think my 3-star rating is wrong on a book, please tell me why. Maybe your insight into the character I disliked will change my mind. Anything is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Crime of the Ancient Marinara, by Stephanie Cole

Image belongs to Berkley.

Title:  Crime of the Ancient Marinara
Author:  Stephanie Cole
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

Nell Valenti is settling into her role of transforming the Villa Orlandini into a superb farm-to-table cooking school, and the time has finally come for a full taste test run. But when Chef Orlandini prepares to reveal his top secret marinara recipe for the first time to a group of American gastro-tourists, Nell realizes she might have bitten off more than she can chew.

Nell begins to suspect that one of the tourists is actually a private detective sent to spy on her by her overprotective father, and the fussy foodies are noisy and disrespectful from the very start of the Marinara Mysteriosa workshop. Even worse, when one visitor appears to be poisoned by the famous marinara recipe, Nell will have to work fast to uncover a killer and keep a lid on bad press before her fresh start is spoiled for good.

I hadn’t read the first book in this series, but that wasn’t much of an issue. This was a quick read, but I didn’t find much depth to it. Nell decides to investigate the murder herself—and doesn’t think it’s a big deal to withhold evidence from the police—and I couldn’t really understand her motivation for that. Chef was presented as a bumbling incompetent, which seemed unlikely, and Nell doesn’t speak Italian, while all but one of the staff don’t speak English, which also seemed like an unlikely scenario (if she can’t communicate, how’d she end up with this job, living in Italy?). This was an easy read, but the whole setup wasn’t really believable to me.

Stephanie Cole lives and teaches in the greater Cleveland area. Crime of the Ancient Marinara is her newest novel, the second book in the Tuscan Cooking School Mystery series.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Girl from the Channel Islands, by Jenny Lecoat

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The Girl from the Channel Islands
Author: Jenny Lecoat
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

I don’t think I’ve read anything about World War II in the Channel Islands, so this was something new for me, as was the German officer who wasn’t a Nazi (most of the historical fiction set during this time that I’ve read just portrays all German soldiers as monsters).

This time period is so hard to read about. The atrocities Hedy went through and witnessed are terrible, but she comes through with her hope and her spirits intact. I found this to be an excellent read.

Jenny Lecoat was born in the Channel Islands. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Undercover Kitty, by Sofie Ryan

Image belongs to Berkley.

Title:  Undercover Kitty
Author:  Sofie Ryan
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

Sarah and Elvis can always be found at a charming secondhand shop in the village of North Harbor, Maine. Despite the small-town setting, the daring duo often find themselves wrapped up in murder, but luckily they have help–a quirky group of senior citizens runs an amateur detective agency called Charlotte’s Angels out of the store.

The Angels are hired to look into who is sabotaging cat shows in the state, and they decide the best way to do that is to send Elvis the cat undercover as a contestant. But then one of the cat show volunteers is murdered just before the latest competition, and Sarah and the Angels have to catch a killer in two shakes of a cat’s tail!

This is the eighth book in the Second Chance Cat Mystery series. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but that wasn’t a problem. (That being said, having read the other seven books probably would have given this some more depth.)

This was a quick, fun read with some moments that made me laugh. I didn’t think the culprit was totally unexpected, but it wasn’t glaringly obvious, either. This is well-written and quirky—and I honestly had no idea that cat shows were such a thing. (And I say that as a cat owner!)

Sofie Ryan lives on the east coast. Undercover Kitty is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Knockout, by Sajni Patel

Image belongs to Flux.

Title:  The Knockout
Author:  Sajni Patel
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Kareena is a fantastic character:  she’s tough, determined, loves her family, and is dealing with problems on all sides with strength and courage. Kareena has always been both a rebel against her community and set on making her parents proud, so this conflict is a theme in the story, as is her finding the courage to trust people with her secrets. This is a well-written book set in a vibrant community and is an excellent read!

Sajni Patel was born in India and grew up in Texas. The Knockout is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: At the Edge of the Haight, by Katherine Seligman

Image belongs to Algonquin Books.

Title:  At the Edge of the Haight
Author:  Katherine Seligman
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, has made a family of sorts in the dangerous spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She knows whom to trust, where to eat, when to move locations, and how to take care of her dog. It’s the only home she has. When she unwittingly witnesses the murder of a young homeless boy and is seen by the perpetrator, her relatively stable life is upended. Suddenly, everyone from the police to the dead boys’ parents want to talk to Maddy about what she saw. As adults pressure her to give up her secrets and reunite with her own family before she meets a similar fate, Maddy must decide whether she wants to stay lost or be found. Against the backdrop of a radically changing San Francisco, a city which embraces a booming tech economy while struggling to maintain its culture of tolerance, At the Edge of the Haight follows the lives of those who depend on makeshift homes and communities.

Things I wish I’d known before reading this (as I might have chosen to not read it): the murder victim is not a “young” homeless boy, but a guy around Maddy’s age; and the main plot of this story is Maddy herself, not her struggle to stay safe from the perpetrator (because that’s an aside at best). This is also a new adult book, not a young adult book, as I’ve seen it called in some reviews.

Maddy herself is a fascinating character and the reader is very much involved in her life. However, this is a very slow read without a lot of character growth. Some of Maddy’s friends are homeless by choice—they have families and places to go but choose not to—some are not, and their family unit struggles together. This isn’t a fun or uplifting read, so if that’s what you’re expecting, it’s probably best to give this a pass.

Katherine Seligman is a journalist and author. At the Edge of the Haight is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Pairing to Die For, by Kate Lansing

Image belongs to Berkley.

Title:  A Pairing to Die For
Author:  Kate Lansing
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

It’s fall in Boulder, Colorado, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. Parker Valentine, owner of Vino Valentine, is finally settling in to her winery and her new relationship with Reid Wallace, a local chef. But their delicate pairing is endangered when Reid’s estranged family comes into town to celebrate the opening of his new restaurant.

Reid and his family are immediately at loggerheads, given their often acidic temperaments, but Parker still wants to make a good first impression. However, her efforts might be in vain when Reid’s sous chef is found dead in the alley behind the restaurant, and Reid is implicated in the murder. In order to save Reid, Parker will have to find the real killer, even if the truth is difficult to swallow.

I haven’t read the first book in the Colorado Wine Mystery series, but that wasn’t a problem. This was a quick, easy read. To be honest, my main issue was with how quickly they arrested Reid—within a couple of hours—and with no physical evidence to link him to the crime. I need the books I read to make sense, and this didn’t. Apart from that, this was an entertaining read.

Kate Lansing lives in Colorado. A Pairing to Die For is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Aftershock, by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Image belongs to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

Title:  Aftershock
Author:  Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
Genre:  Mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

There’s a body crushed under a load of pipes on a San Francisco construction site, and medical examiner Dr. Jessie Teska is on call. So it’s her job to figure out who it is—and her headache when the autopsy reveals that the death is a homicide staged as an accident.

Jessie is hot on the murderer’s trail, then an earthquake sends her and her whole city reeling. When the dust clears, her case has fallen apart and an innocent man is being framed. Jessie knows she’s the only one who can prove it, and she races to piece together the truth—before it gets buried and brings her down in the rubble.

I enjoyed this second entry into the Dr. Jessie Teska Mystery series, although I have to say, for a smart person, Jessie does some really stupid stuff. Although I don’t understand some of her choices, she’s a vivid character and one I enjoy reading. There are a lot of quirky things that make this series unique and enjoyable, from where Jessie lives to her background and family. This is a solid mystery read.

Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell are New York Times bestselling authors. Aftershock is their newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Deep into the Dark, by P. J. Tracy

Image belongs to Minotaur Books.

Title:  Deep into the Dark
Author:  P. J. Tracy
Genre:  Mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

Sam Easton—a true survivor—is home from Afghanistan, trying to rebuild a life in his hometown of LA. Separated from his wife, bartending and therapy sessions are what occupy his days and nights. When friend and colleague Melody Traeger is beaten by her boyfriend, she turns to Sam for help. When the boyfriend turns up dead the next day, a hard case like Sam is the perfect suspect.

But LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan, whose brother recently died serving overseas, is sympathetic to Sam’s troubles, and can’t quite see him as a killer. She’s more interested in the secrets Melody might be keeping and the developments in another murder case on the other side of town.

I haven’t read anything from this author, but I enjoyed this read. Excellent writing, fascinating characters, and a realistic setting all made this an engrossing book. Sam proves to be an unreliable narrator, which is hard to pull-off, but it’s well-done here. I didn’t figure out who the killer was until just before the characters did, and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I’d definitely read more of this series.

P.J. Tracy is an award-winning author. Deep into the Dark is her newest novel, the start of a new series.

(Galley courtesy of Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.)