Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen

book cover
Bloom and Doom
by Beverly Allen


ISBN-13: 9780425264973
Mass Market Paperback:
304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: April 1, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A designer of eye-catching bridal bouquets—many of them based on the Victorian meanings behind each flower—Audrey Bloom is used to celebrations that end with happily ever after. In fact, every couple she’s worked with is still together, living in wedded bliss. But her perfect record is about to be broken.

Her childhood friend Jenny Whitney has reeled in the most eligible bachelor in Ramble, Virginia, and she’s hired Audrey to design the bouquet. But before Jenny can walk down the aisle clutching her blend of anemone, scabious, and pussy willow (a floral disaster in Audrey’s mind), the groom is found dead—sprinkled with bits of a bouquet. Jenny is the prime suspect. Audrey knows her well enough to doubt the evidence, so she decides to do a little digging herself.


My Review:
Bloom and Doom is a cozy mystery. I enjoyed the "language of flowers" theme. The characters were interesting and engaging. I liked the humor of many of the situations and that the heroine realized the humor of it. She could have been stressed-out and snappy, but this humor made her fun instead.

The mystery was a clue-based puzzle, and I was pretty sure of whodunit based on the clues. I wasn't certain until the last clue was found, though. Audrey was fairly logical and usually didn't break the law while exploring possible clues. I deeply appreciated that the author did her research on how the police--and jails and the law--really work. Jenny was a suspect because the evidence was pretty solid against her.

There was no bad language or sex. There was a brief, somewhat gory discussion, but it probably won't bother you if you watch detective shows or read non-cozy mysteries. Overall, I'd recommend this very enjoyable mystery.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Whole Cat and Caboodle by Sofie Ryan

book cover
The Whole Cat and Caboodle
by Sofie Ryan


ISBN-13: 9780451419941
Mass Market Paperback:
336 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: April 1, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Sarah Grayson is the proprietor of Second Chance, a shop in the oceanfront town of North Harbor, Maine. She sells used items that she has lovingly refurbished and repurposed. The shop has a big, black cat named Elvis. He turned up at a local bar when the band was playing the King of Rock and Roll’s music and hopped in Sarah’s truck. Since then, he’s been her constant companion and the furry favorite of everyone who comes into the store.

When Sarah’s elderly friend Maddie is found with the body of a dead man in her garden, the kindly old lady is arrested for the murder. Even Sarah's old high school flame, investigator Nick Elliot, thinks the evidence is against Maddie. It's up to Sarah, Elvis, and a geriatric version of Charlie's Angels to clear her friend’s name.


My Review:
The Whole Cat and Caboodle is a cozy mystery. Considering the series title ("Second Chance Cat"), it won't surprise you that a very smart cat is a major character. While he has some human attributes (like nodding and shrugging, which I've never witnessed a cat do) and he does play a major role in solving the mystery, he still comes across as a cat.

There's quite a bit of comic relief in this story, so I suspect we're not intended to take the characters or story too seriously. They are fun characters, and Elvis and Mr. P stole the show in my opinion.

The heroine gets involved in the mystery because she's trying to keep her elderly friends out of danger as they sleuth. At times, she's observant and thinks things out. At other times, she (and her friends) seem to miss the obvious. I was 100% certain of whodunit within a page of first meeting whodunit and quickly figured out the motive. Yet no one made those connections even though they had the same information I did, and they only suspected after the cat clued them in.

This book had some of my pet peeves: the police arrested and charged someone based completely on circumstantial evidence that could point equally well to other people. The characters all acted like this was an air-tight case, though. And, in the end, the only way to get proof of whodunit was for a clever murderer to suddenly abandon all caution and decide to kill the heroine in a busy, public place....and confess while doing so.

There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this book to cat lovers and those who like humorous stories.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Window to the World by Susan Meissner

book cover
A Window to the World
by Susan Meissner


ISBN-13: 9780736914147
Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Released: January 1, 2005

Source: Bought through Half.com.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Megan and Jen meet in first grade and quickly become inseparable friends. Inseparable, that is, until one of them is snatched away by kidnappers as the other young girl watches helplessly. The remaining child grows up with the haunting memory of her friend's abduction...and absence from her life. Then, sixteen years later, a stunning truth about the kidnapping is revealed. And once again, lives are changed forever.


My Review:
A Window to the World is a Christian general fiction that covers a period of 16 years. Since the story covered so many years, the main focus and character development was with Megan. The other characters acted realistically, but the author didn't really wrap up what happened to them.

Because of this, I didn't feel satisfied by the ending. We know that Megan is no longer chained by her past, but it's clear that the kidnapping profoundly changed other people's lives and there is no real resolution for them. Instead, we're given possible future hardships they may face. Since a somewhat improbable event happens to give Megan resolution, the more realistic "the problems in life never really end" for the rest of the characters left me feeling like the story simply stopped rather than wrapped up.

On the other hand, the story was a well-written, realistic view of how traumatic events can affect a young child for the rest of her life and how healing can be slow. Some of her process of healing was told rather than shown. For example, Jen's family weren't Christians, so Jen asked Megan questions that, at 8-years-old, Megan wasn't able to answer. Her father gives her a very simplistic, child-level answer than doesn't satisfy her. As an adult, she goes to some Bible studies that answer her questions and help her heal, but we're told this rather than the author giving scenes showing this.

There were no sex scenes. There was a minor amount of swearing (i.e., using "God" irreverently). Overall, I'd recommend this novel to those who like novels that deal with hard, realistic issues.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

book cover
Death Cloud
by Andrew Lane


ISBN-13: 9781429929530
Hardback: 320 pages
Publisher: Macmillan
Released: Feb 1, 2011

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description from Back Cover:
It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.


My Review:
Death Cloud is a young adult historical suspense novel set in 1868 in England. The book started out with rich historical details woven into a story about Sherlock learning the skills that he uses as an adult. I found this very interesting and also enjoyed the characters. However, the story soon turned into an action-adventure movie...the type that has a lot of plot holes and unrealistic actions once you stop to think about it.

For example, Sherlock is being chased and wants to stay in a crowded area for safely so....instead of staying on the streets, he runs into a building he knows nothing about, descends into a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel, and mayhem ensues.

I didn't like that his actions throughout the book resulted in a lot of innocent people dying even if it was while trying to save his own life and "saving the day." I was also disappointed that the bad guys did everything the hard way, but sometimes that felt like the author hadn't done as much research on bees as he did the historical details. (If you know about bees, the whole plot is mildly amusing instead of suspenseful.) The author also appears to mistake knowledge with logic, but it's not the same thing. Basically, it wasn't what I'd expected from a book with Sherlock in it.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend the book to teens.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shunned and Dangerous by Laura Bradford

book cover
Shunned and Dangerous
by Laura Bradford


ISBN-13: 9780425252437
Mass Market Paperback:
288 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: March 4, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Living in the small town of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, Claire Weatherly has come to admire the Amish for their wholesome, honest way of life. But she also knows that nothing is as simple as it seems.

When Claire hears that Mose Fisher has made one of his famous corn mazes, she can’t wait to walk the paths and test her skill. But deep inside the maze, she discovers the body of Amish dairy farmer Harley Zook.

It won’t be easy for Detective Jakob Fisher to investigate a murder on his own father’s farm—not after being shunned by the man for leaving the Amish community and becoming a cop. With Mose himself as a suspect and old family secrets cropping up, Claire does what she can to help Jakob catch the killer.


My Review:
Shunned and Dangerous is a cozy mystery. It's the third book in a series. You don't need to read the previous novels to understand this one, and this novel didn't spoil the whodunits in the previous novels.

This novel is full of character development--much more than most cozy mysteries. The author did an excellent job of weaving in details about living near the Amish and what it's like for people to be or leave the Amish. The characters were engaging, complex, and reacted realistically.

The mystery was clue-based. Claire helped the detective by doing things with or for him. While she noticed things, she didn't question things, even things as simple as "is anyone going to dispose of this stinking milk?" She acted like it'd always be there and was surprised when someone did clean it up. It was a bit frustrating that she didn't make some pretty obvious connections a lot sooner, but then I guess the mystery would have been solved too quickly. However, she was a nice, caring person, and the characters and setting kept me immersed in the story.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this mystery, especially to those interested in the emotional conflict that the ex-Amish detective faces.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Town in a Strawberry Swirl by B.B. Haywood

book cover
Town in a Strawberry Swirl
by B.B. Haywood


ISBN-13: 9780425252468
Mass Market Paperback:
304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: February 4, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In the quaint seaside village of Cape Willington, Maine, Candy Holliday helps her father run his Blueberry Acres farm. As the community gears up for another festive and strawberry-picking season, the villagers are shocked when local berry farmer Miles Crawford is found dead in a hoophouse near his strawberry fields. Rumors have been swirling around about a secret real estate deal between Miles and Lydia St. Graves. And now Lydia is missing after she was seen fleeing the scene of the crime…. Things turn very sticky when Lydia suddenly reappears and asks for Candy’s help in finding the true murderer…


My Review:
Town in a Strawberry Swirl is a cozy mystery. It's the fifth in a series, but you don't need to read the previous books to understand this one, and this book didn't spoil the whodunit of the previous novels.

I liked that the heroine logically thought through the clues from the beginning and was sensitive in how she got information. The heroine and her father are likable characters. There were clues as to the "why" and some indications about the "who" of whodunit, but I don't think there were enough clues to firmly guess whodunit before the reveal. I was disappointed that the mystery was solved through the heroine being at the wrong place at the wrong time rather than the excellent clue-finding work.

There was a minor amount of explicit bad language. There were no sex scenes. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable mystery.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shaken by Kariss Lynch

book cover
Shaken
by Kariss Lynch


ISBN-13: 9781621365358
Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms
Released: February 4, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
After much internal debate, idealistic Kaylan Richards decides to join her best friend in serving a short-term missions in a clinic in poverty-stricken Haiti. Kaylan is determined to help the Haitian people, especially as she becomes convinced that God has abandoned them.

Just weeks after she arrives, her faith is challenged even further by the worst earthquake the country has ever seen. People she cares about are dead, and Kaylan questions a God that would allow this to happen and what good can come from such destruction and loss.

Her boyfriend, Navy SEAL Nick Carmichael, does whatever it takes to discover if she's still alive. He's seen death and danger, but he knows she was never prepared for what she now faces. Can Nick be used by God to help her discover the good that can come even in tragedy?


My Review:
Shaken is a Christian romance novel. I thought this novel would be mainly set in Haiti and show the struggles they deal with, but only a third of the book occurs in Haiti and much of the detailed description was of the earthquake and the immediate aftermath. Since I've read some nonfiction about what Haiti is like, I was confused that problems like AIDs were never mention in the novel, especially as the characters were giving medical care to bleeding people.

I also had a hard time getting immersed in the story because I was constantly confused by what we were supposed to think about the characters. We're told that Kaylan deeply trusts her family and distrusts Nick, but after the earthquake, she more open (trusting) with Nick than her family. And I wasn't sure if we were supposed to believe that Kaylan was struggling against a genuine call from God or if she was simply following her friend's vision and figured God would approve. We do eventually get a clear answer to that one, but by then I had new questions.

Much of the book was Kaylan thinking things over rather than actually interacting with people. If Kaylan and her best friend had interacted more--like showing them struggling together with culture shock (which was blurred over) or if the the memories were shared earlier--I would have understood how much that relationship defined Kaylan's identity. As it is, it came across as a good but casual friendship until halfway through the book.

Kaylan frequently prayed at God and did Christian things, but she didn't really know God. She referred to faith in God as "blind faith," but it isn't blind if you know the One you're putting your trust it. She told a Haitian that Jesus died to "heal us" but never said from what, and I wondered if she really understood why Christ died. She constantly told God what to do and judged Him for not fixing things in her way and timing. So she's going to fix things since God is failing in His job. She further questions God after the earthquake. While some answers were seen about what good could come out of the earthquake, I didn't feel like she'd grown in her understanding of God.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, if you're interested in the Haiti aspect, you'll probably get more out of a non-fiction book. If you want a novel about a shallow Christian undergoing deep trauma and her family's efforts to help her heal emotionally, you might like this book.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.