Thoughts on FROM BEER TO ETERNITY

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of the month again, so you know what that means. It’s time for the regularly scheduled book review! This month, I decided to go back to cozy mysteries for something fun and quick and with a happy ending. I got an ARC for Sherry Harris’s newest release, From Beer to Eternity. It’s the first in her Sea Glass Saloon series and was released on the 28th (yesterday) from Kensington Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

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Cute cover, but doesn’t seem like an accurate depiction of the bar.

From Beer to Eternity follows Chloe Jackson as she takes some time off from her library job in Chicago to fulfill a last promise to her best friend Boone who died. She goes to his hometown in the Florida panhandle and gets a job at his grandmother’s bar. The only problem is that Vivi, his grandmother, doesn’t want or seem to need help. Throw in a murder, a hot mystery guy, and a few attempts on Chloe’s life and Chicago just keeps looking better and better. Unfortunately, Chloe keeps her promises, so she can’t run away. Instead, she dives head first into a murder investigation like anyone would. No? Just her? Okay then.

First, the character development. I love Chloe. She’s the first snoop I’ve seen in one of these books who actually acknowledges that she’s bad at it and tries to come at things from different angles when she screws up. The only complaint I have about her is that she’s overly dumb sometimes even though she’s supposed to be smart. If multiple people start looking at you like you’re nuts when you say someone is a handywoman, you inquire as to why they’re looking at you like that, especially when no one actually told you her profession beyond “she fixes things.” Don’t be dense. Chloe’s new in town, so there’s no bestie to support her, but that means we get to see the budding friendship between her and Joaquin, the gay bartender. There’s also the weird romance thing going on with Rhett, but Chloe’s resistant to it for a couple of reasons (only one of which is acceptable to me). And of course there’s the tension with Vivi. It all makes for some really nice development.

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The setting is lovely. Harris does a wonderful job of depicting life on the Gulf. I love the beach imagery and the storms rolling in and even the bar. Everything is so vivid. All of the senses are utilized to create the whole picture. It’s kind of an immersive experience, which is neat.

The plot and pacing is great for the most part. It kept me guessing until the end, but we didn’t get to see much of the killer, so they basically flew under the radar. However, the last few chapters kind of went from a good and steady pace to a random avalanche. Throwing in that completely random and unfounded suspicion about Boone’s death only made the ending convoluted. His death never seemed to come into question until that point, so it is jarring and distracts from what actually happened.

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The writing is lovely, like I mentioned with the setting. Everything flows well and the imagery is gorgeous. Other than the pacing of the last few chapters, I can’t find anything to complain about with the writing itself.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed From Beer to Eternity. I will definitely by picking up future books in the series and may even check out Harris’s other cozy mystery series.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you enjoy a good cozy or want something quick and fun to read, it’s worth picking up.

Quarantine TBR

Hello, hello! Welcome to May. How is everyone doing? They’re currently trying to reopen Texas in phases even though we’re beating records for most new cases of Covid-19 just about every day. Because that seems like the smart thing to do? I guess? Whatever. Everyone else can do what they want. I’ll be keeping myself at home until things actually settle down and/or there’s a vaccine or treatment protocols that work. So, that means I need to find ways to entertain myself for a while longer. That means books. Lots of books. And since I have nothing else to ramble about today, I thought I would share my to-be-read list thus far (I add books every day).

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It’s not wrong.

Instead of just listing some books, it’ll be easier if I group them together by genre or whether I’ve already read them. So, here are some of the books on my TBR list.

1. Books I’ve read, but want to read again. This year, I’ve been making my way through the Chronicles of Narnia. I have three left (The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle). I also plan on rereading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, Ransom by Lois Duncan, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman at some point before the end of the year. Depending on how my other reads go, I might also try to start Harry Potter again, but I might save that for next year’s reading list.

2. Mysteries (cozies or otherwise). I don’t know how this list ended up being so long, but it is and it’s still growing. I want to read The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill, Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert, A Crafter Hooks a Killer by Holly Quinn, and Death in a Budapest Butterfly by Julia Buckley. Also, Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien is due out in August, which I’m looking forward to. And if you look at my GoodReads page, you’ll see a bunch more like these that I probably won’t get to this year.

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3. Fantasy. I’m currently reading Dragon Brothers by L.B. Lillibridge for this month’s book review. I was originally going to read The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, but its publication date got pushed back until February, so while I’m still going to read it this month, the review will wait until closer to February. I also have Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, and Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw on my list for this year. The next two books in Danielle Rose’s Darkhaven saga are also due out before the end of the year, so those go on the list too.

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I doubt I’ll be able to make it through all of these books by the end of the year, but since there probably won’t be much progress with Covid-19 in the foreseeable future, maybe I’ll be able to finish them and more before I stop hermitting. Quarantining. I meant quarantining. What are some of the books on your TBR list? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or lists or suggestions or whatever here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on CHERRY SLICE

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday in April. Can you believe it? Time has just been flying by these past few weeks. But you know what today is. It’s book review day! None of my requests were approved through NetGalley for this month, so I bought a backup just in case. It’s called Cherry Slice by Jennifer Stone and was released on April 2nd from Farrago Books. I decided to do another cozy mystery since it’s been a while since I reviewed one that wasn’t also fantasy. I wanted something cute and funny and overall happy. This book seemed like it would accommodate all of those things. Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review!

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Simple enough cover.

Cherry Slice follows Cherry Hinton as she tries to reinvent herself after an undercover journalism mission on reality TV goes awry. She’s doing her best to avoid the spotlight while revamping her parents’ bakery into something her own. That is until an ex’s sister pops in and asks her to look into his murder which happened on live TV two years prior. It piques Cherry’s journalistic interest and drags her back into the midst of Essex’s reality TV obsession.

Plotwise, it’s pretty standard. Someone with no law experience (although she does have investigative reporting experience) is in the middle of a rough time when a murder falls in her lap and she must solve it in order to get her life back on track. There are a handful of suspects that keep both Cherry and the reader guessing, then throw in another murder and some more twists and you’ve got the gist of things. Don’t forget the quirky best friend, the hunky detective dude she’s already kind of dated but still has the hots for, and the overbearing mother. So yeah, it’s standard but cute.

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It’s also a little trashy, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The characters are fun and pretty diverse. Cherry’s not afraid to get a little dirty to get the info she seeks. Her bestie, Kelsey, is down for anything as long as she can entertain her social media followers. Jacob, the detective, is a camera whore and a manipulative dick most of the time. I think my favorite character was probably Cherry’s mom. She rambles and has zero shame and basically solves the murder of Kenny Thorpe when Cherry’s stuck with no new leads.

One last thing I want to mention is the humor in this book. If you’re a fan of inappropriate humor, you’ll be fine. That being said, it does border on the offensive. There’s fat-shaming, slut-shaming (usually at Cherry’s expense), jokes at the expense of non-binary folks, and more. If you’re sensitive to stuff like that, this is not a book you’ll want to pick up. I’m not, so it didn’t really bother me. Sometimes though, the humor was super forced, which gave it an unnatural feel. That’s when I’d roll my eyes and move on.

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The writing itself was tight and fast-paced. It was a pretty quick read, but I admit that I occasionally didn’t want to pick it back up. Between figuring out who the killer was pretty early on and the forced jokes, I got a bit bored with it. But I finished it because the writing wasn’t bad and the story itself was okay.

Ultimately, I thought Cherry Slice was just okay. If I happen to see the next book in the series, I’ll probably give it another chance if the synopsis is interesting, but I don’t plan on looking for it.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. Probably closer to two and a half if I’m being honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. If you like inappropriate humor and cozies, give it a shot. If not, you’re not really missing anything.

Thoughts on The Last Smile in Sunder City

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last week of February which means that it’s review time. And guess what! I got approved at the very last minute for another February release, so you’ll get another review either next week or the week after, depending on how fast I can get through it. Are you tired of book reviews yet? Tough noogies, I guess. Anyway, today I’m taking a look at The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. It was released by Orbit Books on February 25th. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

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An interesting cover.

The Last Smile in Sunder City follows Fetch Phillips, a human and a former jack-of-all-trades turned soldier turned PI, as he tries to do some good with his life. Six years ago, the source of magic was cut off from the world due to human greed. This left all the monsters to adapt to a miserable new life and sometimes, they need favors. That’s where Fetch comes in handy. This time, he’s hired to find a missing vampire, but nobody is prepared for what else he discovers along the way.

Sounds fun, right? It is to an extent. I mean, who wouldn’t love a gritty noir-esque mystery with real monsters? The problem is that that’s not what we get. Not really. There are a bunch of different stories all packed into one here and none of them are fleshed out into a story worth the time it takes to sift through them. And I don’t mean that various storylines are layered together like a book should have, I’m talking about a multitude of main stories being stuffed into one. In fact, the story that seems the most planned out is Fletch’s backstory which takes up half the book in flashbacks. That’s the story that wants to be told. It’s epic verging on dark fantasy. And I’d totally read that book. It would be awesome. But as a mystery, this story falls flat.

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Me as I was reading.

As far as the characters go, there are too many introduced to keep track of or develop feelings for. This is also due to the multiple stories vying for attention. It’s kind of annoying to have to go back to figure out who’s being talked about all the time. And there’s also the fact that Fetch doesn’t really do anything, at least not pertaining to the main story, so it’s hard to get into him. He gets lucky a couple of times and stumbles upon clues, but he very rarely actively does his job. And whenever he’s in trouble, someone else saves him. It became easy to hope Fetch failed. At least then I would’ve had a laugh. That being said, I did like his personality for the most part.

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It’s me.

The writing itself was nice. It flowed and would’ve made for a quick read if I didn’t have to keep going back to see who was who. There was some surprising imagery mixed in with some that was just awkward. But mostly it was just nice. Not great but not bad either. There’s a lot of good potential if the writer can stick to one main story and a few subplots next time.

Ultimately, The Last Smile in Sunder City sounds like a great idea, but the execution could have been better. I will check out the next book because I really want to like this series. If it’s not better, I’ll probably give it up.

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Overall, I gave it two out of five stars because the premise is really good. I’m not going to urge you to try it, unless I discover future books are much better, but if you’re bored it’s not entirely bad.

Thoughts on BLACK ROCK BAY

Hello, hello!  Tomorrow is Halloween, so guess what that makes this post!  Yup.  Welcome to October’s book review.  This month, I decided to try something a little darker, set on an island off of Maine.  It’s called Black Rock Bay and it’s by Brianna Labuskes.  It was released yesterday (October 29th), so of course I got an ARC.  Therefore, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Thomas and Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing), for giving me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get onto the fun part.

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A simple cover that actually has something to do with the story.

Black Rock Bay follows Mia and her newest detective partner, Izzy, as they get sent to Mia’s old home in order to investigate a suspicious death.  It’s an unusual assignment since they handle cold cases, but the islanders are secretive and only warm up to their own.  Granted, Mia hasn’t been back in fifteen years due to a mysterious suicide attempt gone wrong, but her boss hopes being born and raised there will earn her some good will.  As Mia and Izzy dig into the suspicious death, they uncover something far more sinister than the average murder and it takes Mia right back to the time of her life she most wants to forget.

Sounds cool, right?  And it is, to a point.  I think I’m just going to jump right into my issues with the story.  The plot is interesting and plausible, but at the end there are a few loose ends that are never adequately explained.  Normally, this wouldn’t be so bad, but it affects the believability of key parts of the story.  For instance, why is Ellen so easily manipulated?  Yes, people in trouble do weird things, but we never really get to know her motivation which makes her flat and seem like she was added specifically as a tool for the baddie.  But my biggest issue was what Sammy did.  He had absolutely no legitimate reason for that.  And the excuse we get was a vague mention that the baddie might have had something on him.  It was a really weak spot that made the whole story less believable.  And it was a twist that was completely unnecessary.  Even the author couldn’t come up with a better explanation than “psychopaths do things for shits and giggles.”  Like, yeah, but this is fiction.  There needs to be a reason for all the major plot points or things start to fall apart.

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Something all writers should ask themselves.

That being said, I really liked the core characters.  Mia was strong and a good lead.  She had her own issues to face, but fought against them until she absolutely had to deal with them.  Izzy was a nice foil, but she could have been more.  Lacey was a fun character that was a little hard to read.  And Cash was a bit neurotic.  I’m not entirely convinced he was supposed to be, but it made him more interesting.  The whole reclusive islander thing worked really well.  Izzy’s ostracization was entirely believable.  No one was overtly rude to her, but they effectively shut her out.  That dynamic was probably my favorite part of this book.  And Izzy breaking down barriers with some of the islanders was artfully done.

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Me as I was trying to figure out who I was supposed to be in the mind of: Mia or Izzy?

The writing itself flowed nicely and made for an easy read.  It was interesting how the point of view swapped back and forth between Mia and Izzy; however, the narrative voice never really changed enough to differentiate the two, so if I didn’t note who each chapter was focused on (it tells you at the beginning of each chapter), I admit I got confused.

Ultimately, I found Black Rock Bay to be so-so.  It’s not bad.  In fact, the beginning is pretty good.  But it doesn’t hold up.  It’s not something I’ll read again and it doesn’t make me want to hunt down other books by the author.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars.  Probably closer to 2.5 if I’m being completely honest.  It just didn’t work for me, but maybe you’ll like it.

Thoughts On TWO GIRLS DOWN

Howdy, howdy!  Happy Halloween!  I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful evening filled with lots of candy (whether you trick or treat or just hide from the doorbell and watch scary movies).  It’s time for another book review.  For this week, I decided to take a look at Louisa Luna’s Two Girls Down.  It’s a mystery/thriller that was released in January by Doubleday.  I read it as a recommendation from some of the ladies in the book club I’m part of.  So, let’s get down to it.

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Decent cover.

Two Girls Down revolves around the disappearance of two girls (surprised yet?), Kylie (10) and Bailey (8).  Alice Vega, a kind of professional child finder, comes all the way across the country at the family’s behest when the police begin to prove useless.  She teams up with ex-cop/current PI, Max “Cap” Caplan.  They both have issues of their own to work through while conducting a search with few leads.  Basically, it’s one of your average mystery scenarios.

Let’s start at the beginning.  We’re in Jamie Brandt’s (the mother’s) head during the first chapter, which was kind of neat.  I was looking forward to seeing her progress through the story and seeing how she dealt with everything.  But nope.  We jump from her to a story that flops back and forth between Vega and Cap.  That would have been fine, but it made the opening chapter feel more like a prologue.  Why did I even bother reading that part?  Yes, it set up the case.  But that was just as easily done throughout the rest of the story.  I just felt kind of robbed that we never got to go back in Jamie’s head.

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Me when I realized we weren’t going back to the initial POV at any point.

The characters were all pretty cool.  Cap was jaded yet optimistic, which was an odd combo, but it worked.  Vega had a lot of eccentricities and some emotional disconnect.  I kind of wondered if she was supposed to be on the autism spectrum, but it wasn’t addressed in the story, so who knows.  Nell (Cap’s daughter) was a little too good to be true.  And the bad people were pretty damn creepy.  Though I will say that a lot of Vega’s characterization made the story feel like the second or third book in a series.  Like I was supposed to understand references to her past cases.  But it’s the first (only?) book, so it was super disconcerting.

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Me throughout the book.

The plot was slow and repetitive, which isn’t as uncommon in mysteries as it should be.  I didn’t particularly understand the bad guy’s partner, but I know people like that exist.  It took a hard turn towards gritty when everything pointed towards pedophilia (not really a spoiler since the possibility is there all along).  My only issue was that the bad guy’s preferred age range seemed to vary a lot.  Pedophiles usually stick to a pretty limited age range, so it made me wonder if something else was going on.  Apparently not.

Ultimately, I had problems with Two Girls Down.  It left me unsatisfied.  I don’t need a happy ending, but the one I got was lukewarm and just kind of there.  Some people loved the book.  I wasn’t one of them.

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Overall, I gave it two stars.  It was okay, but not something I’ll go out of my way to get sequels of, should they come out.  If you like average mysteries, give it a shot.  If you’re more into fast-paced thrillers with something new on every other page, skip this one.

Thoughts On SHATTERED MIRROR

Hello, hello!  It’s that time again.  Time for another book review!  I got another Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley, so I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  This month, I requested access to Shattered Mirror (An Eve Duncan novel) by Iris Johansen, which was released on the 24th (yesterday).  It’s a thriller/mystery; genres I seem to be drawn to lately.  What I didn’t realize when I requested the book was that it’s the 23rd in a series.  That means I’m coming into a bunch of established characters and relationships that I know nothing about, which is always a little difficult no matter how well the author explains existing situations.  With that in mind, I’ll get into the review now.

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Interesting cover.

Shattered Mirror opens on a lake cottage where Eve Duncan (one of the top forensic sculptors in the world), her husband Joe Quinn (ex-SEAL, current cop, and who knows what else), and their six-year-old son Michael (basically a wise old man in a kid’s body with a touch of ESP or something) live.  The scene is serene until a gold box containing a burnt skull and a two-sided mirror shows up in the passenger’s seat of their jeep.  As Eve starts the reconstruction, she and her family are drawn into a psychopath’s trap.  Throw in some family members that were sort of adopted along the way (Cara, an eighteen-year-old violin prodigy with a tragic past, and Jock, a retired assassin) and a Russian mafia leader (Cara’s grandfather, Kaskov), and things get volatile pretty quickly.

First, let’s talk about the plot.  It’s a pretty standard revenge plot, and a portion of the story is from the psychopath’s (Norwalk’s) perspective, which I liked.  The story actually starts in his POV, which threw me a bit because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know him from previous books or not.  When I figured out what was going on, that it was going to be told from multiple points of view, I settled into the rhythm quite nicely.  In the end, I would describe it as Criminal Minds and Bones meets *insert any ‘over-the-top action film with lots of explosions and a hero who fails to take the kill shot just to extend the action’ of your choice*.  In other words, it’s fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

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We’ve all seen this scene in action flicks, the kitty just does it better.

Then, there were the characters.  I actually found myself focused on Cara and Jock more than on Eve and her immediate family.  You have this young girl who was saved as a child by this super attractive ex-assassin with a Scottish accent and they’ve been best friends ever since.  Well, now she’s older and totally in love with him.  Except he’s kind of a manipulative dick.  I mean, the guy ignored her for three months then showed up and expected her to drop everything and talk to him because he was ready to talk.  And she did.  The mysterious bad boy routine would probably have intrigued me when I was younger, but now I just keep hoping she runs away from that crap (spoiler: she doesn’t).  And, if I’m being honest, all the men in this book were jerks to some extent.  On the flip side, the women felt a little flat until the last third of the book when they seemed to finally come alive.  Maybe if I had read the series from the beginning, I would feel different, but coming in at this point left a lot to be desired on the character front.

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Except Cara is too sweet to be sarcastic with Jock.

As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed it.  Johansen introduces the characters and gives new readers all of the pertinent information without it feeling heavy handed or like an infodump.  She’s wonderful at manipulating the pace through sentence structure (something I need to study and work on).  I found myself reading this book like a writer and noticing useful techniques that I can try out later.  I also really liked how she wove a supernatural thread through the story by giving Michael and Eve a kind of spiritual connection.  It didn’t feel awkward or forced like those things sometimes do.

Ultimately, it’s not my favorite series and, since I didn’t connect to the characters, I don’t really have any desire to hunt down book one to start there.  But it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

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Overall, I would give it three stars.  It’s kind of corny and over-the-top, which was fun, but the characters just didn’t draw me in.  If you like thrillers and mysteries, give it a shot.  If not, you’re not missing anything spectacular.