Thoughts on STEEPED IN SECRETS

Howdy, howdy! How was everyone’s Thanksgiving (or Thursday)? We had a nice, quiet one with yummy food and the company wasn’t too bad. We’ve mostly been lazy since then. Shame on us. But I’m here to review a book, not ramble about watching tv. Yes, that means this is the last Wednesday of November! I decided to request a new cozy mystery for this month because I was too lazy to look for something else. Luckily, Steeped in Secrets, the first Crystals and CuriosiTEAS mystery by Lauren Elliott, was available. It was released from Kensington Books on November 29th. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover that’s pretty relevant to the story.

Steeped in Secrets follows Shay Myers as she returns home broke and baffled. After her husband swindles her out of everything she’s built for herself, Shay discovers she’s inherited an old tea shop and more from a woman she barely knew as a child. With no alternative, Shay goes to see what she’s gotten herself into. But a dead body on the greenhouse roof throws even more turmoil into her life. There’s a dog and a hot ex-cop turned pub owner and friends from childhood being far too shifty and family secrets to spice up the plot even more.

Plot wise, it’s not bad, but it could’ve been better. There’s really only one person the baddie could’ve been, which I was fine with. I don’t mind an obvious villain as long as the story is good. But it was one of those things where he randomly shows up and has little to nothing to do until poof! He’s evil! That was disappointing. Plus, his whole background story is convoluted and comes out of nowhere. It’s like the first three quarters of the book were leading somewhere a little more mundane and believable, but someone said that was boring, so instead of rewriting the whole thing to weave everything together, the author just chopped the ending off and added this one. It just didn’t feel natural.

The characters, on the other hand, were fabulous. I enjoyed Shay as a lead and her reactions to everything were mostly relatable or at least believable. Her whole mottle monster thing when she was embarrassed or whatever was adorable. I still find Liam a little creepy. But that’s mostly because I find all super extroverted people creepy. There’s no way I would let a dude I just met come and go from my house as he pleases. I don’t care how helpful and hot he is. Learn to knock, my dude. And Tassi was a cute character with a lot of potential. Everyone else is still pretty flat, but hopefully they’ll grow in future book. Oh, and I adored the dog as usual.

Me to Liam.

I thought the writing itself was nice. It flowed well and made for a quick read. I’m hoping to learn more about tea and crystals in future books, but I also don’t want to be inundated with information. It has the potential to be annoying and infodump-y, but this particular book didn’t overdo it.

Ultimately, I thought Steeped in Secrets could use some work. But I liked the characters enough that I’ll probably check out the next one just to see if the plot’s better.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. The series has potential if the plots get better, but based strictly on this story, I don’t strongly recommend it. If you’re into cozies and hints of supernatural stuff, go for it. If not, save your money.

Thoughts on A DOOMFUL OF SUGAR

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this wonderful Wednesday? Things here are about the same as normal lately. But it’s the last Wednesday of October, so at least I have something to ramble about. It’s book review time! I was boring and went back to my comfort zone this month with the first installment of a new cozy mystery series. A Doomful of Sugar by Catherine Bruns was released yesterday (the 25th) from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Cute cover and pretty relevant to the story.

A Doomful of Sugar follows Leila Khoury as she returns home in the wake of her father’s unsolved murder only to discover that he’s left her the family maple business. As any daddy’s girl would, not only does she accept the challenge of the farm, but she also takes it upon herself to solve the murder, no matter who she has to risk alienating along the way. Toss in a hot new employee that may just be a murderer, an overbearing mother, a brother with a chip on his shoulder, and a bestie that supports all the shenanigans and you’ve got yourself a cozy mystery.

Honestly, the plot is pretty standard. The big bad sticks out way too much from the get-go, then kind of fades into the background until a little bit before the big reveal. I mean, why else would Leila’s dad do what he did? Super obvious, but fine. I was willing to believe it without much thought. The twist was where the story lost me. It was also really heavy handed, which is probably why it felt like more of an ‘ugh’ moment than an ‘aha’ moment. It just wasn’t particularly necessary and felt like a leap. It might just be a me thing, but it made the ending too convoluted.

As far as the characters go, I was mostly unimpressed. I think Leila was supposed to be quirky and headstrong and someone who jumps into things without thinking, but she’s kind of a douchenozzle. She insults people all of the time and they magically forgive her. When she isn’t being rude, she’s accusing people of murder with zero evidence beyond the fact that they exist. And, of course, according to her, everyone else is always judging and being mean to her. I liked her mother and Noah. They were the only reasonable adults in this book. Everyone else ranged from flat and stereotypical to immature and annoying.

The writing itself was okay and made for a quick read despite my lack of motivation to finish this one. And there was maple syrup in it, so at least there’s that.

Ultimately, I didn’t care for A Doomful of Sugar. It’s not going on my list of cozies to keep up with and didn’t spark an interest other series by Bruns.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. One and a half is more accurate. Mostly because it wasn’t my thing, but other people seem to like it. If you enjoy immature characters and an easily decipherable plot, go for it. Otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Thoughts on MEET ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday. Things are good here. The weather is slowly veering away from heat. We’re below 90 this week! Well, we’re supposed to be I think our highest high is supposed to be 89, so we could make it into the 90s. But I’m just rambling. It’s the last Wednesday of September, so it’s book review time! This month, I decided to go with a corny romance. I was hoping for something Halloween-y, but settled for Christmas since that’s all I could find. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe by Jenny Bayliss was released yesterday (the 27th) from G.P Putnam’s Sons. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute and matches the story.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe follows Elinor “Nory” Noel, who runs a secondhand bookshop, as she spends a week with old friends from the posh private school she was a scholarship student at. The reunion brings a host of good memories mingled with a couple of particularly bad ones she would rather forget, but she pushes through in order to be supportive of her friends’ upcoming wedding. It helps when she meets Isaac, an old foe of her friend group, and he turns out to be not half bad (and still stupidly handsome). As the week passes and feelings grow, Nory and Isaac both have some major decisions to make if they want to keep things going.

I admit that romance isn’t my usual genre to read, but of the ones I have, this one pretty much fits the mold. Though, there’s a lot going on here. Most romance I’ve read has two or three subplots going on, but this one has at least six. It’s a lot and a couple of the plotlines feel thin, but it’s handled well for the most part. And it helps that the characters are all interesting enough that I didn’t mind following those subplots. There aren’t many places that drag since something is always happening to someone. So, that’s good.

I really only have two complaints about this book. The first is that all important first kiss scene. The payoff for all of the prolonged will-they/won’t-they bullshit. Of course they will. And the reader will get to be the creepy stalker who watches the sparks fly. I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask out of a romance. But it happens off the page with only a passing mention. Wtf? Sure, we get to see the second kiss, which is supposedly just as good, but it’s not the same. I was so disappointed.

The second complaint has to do with that last big fight scene. You know the one. Every romance has one. When the relationship doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. Well, I didn’t mind the scene, but Isaac’s reaction felt far more stereotypical than true to the character he was built to be. I can understand him kicking Guy out, but he would’ve heard Nory out. If he had kicked her out after discovering she was doing something he’d repeatedly told her he wasn’t ready for, I would’ve understood that and believed it. Kicking her and Guy out just felt like something they throw in to cause friction. It was forced. So, the whole pining thing for the last quarter of the book was just annoying instead of heart wrenching.

As far as the writing goes, it was actually a quick, fun read. The plot was a little dense, but mostly worked. The characters were fun and mostly interesting. It was cute and Christmasy and well written.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Meet Me Under the Mistletoe. Romance isn’t my favorite genre unless I’m in a particular mood, so I probably won’t go looking for more work by Bayliss, but I won’t avoid it either.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. I had fun with it and definitely recommend it if you’re into corny romance, but it’s not something I’d recommend to everyone.

Thoughts on Evangeline’s Heaven

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing on this last Wednesday of August? Are you ready for all things spiced pumpkin? I’m not, but according to people who are into that, it’s already happening. Coffee, donuts, beer. Enjoy! I’m just going to sit here and wait for all things peppermint to start happening. But, enough about that. It’s book review time! This month, I decided to go with another fantasy in the hopes of having a better experience than last month. Evangeline’s Heaven by Jen Braaksma was released from SparkPress yesterday (the 30th). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

It’s a nice enough cover, but her wings are violet, not blood. And why is she naked?

Evangeline’s Heaven is basically a retelling of the fall of Lucifer from his daughter’s perspective. Throw in a little Romeo and Juliet romance arc and you’ve got the story. War between the Commoners (fought for by the Dragons) and Dominions (fought for by the Archangels) rock the Seven Heavens. Evangeline (a mixed blood angel who happens to be the daughter of the leader of the Dragons) wants to save her father’s life, but makes some unsettling discoveries along the way. She’s forced to team up with Michael, the son of the leader of the Archangels in order to save the Heavens from more chaos. But things just keep getting more complicated.

I’ll be honest with you… I was hoping for something more like Angel Sanctuary and less of a thinly veiled ‘eat the rich’ rant that randomly waffles between God sucks and God is great and settles somewhere around God might be okay. C’mon. Do better. I don’t mind a story with the moral of ‘the upper class is horrible and needs to realize the lower class are people who deserve rights too.’ But don’t force it down my throat repeatedly on every page. Let it unfold naturally in the story. Otherwise, especially in a story about angels and shit, it feels super preachy. No one wants that. And I know. You’re judging me right now and assuming I’m a heartless asshat just because I get annoyed when writers don’t know how to be subtle. I assure you that I’m not. I completely agree with the message. It’s the method of how to get that message across that I disagree with. This book is basically the equivalent of shouting down at someone until they play dead just to get you to shut up. That doesn’t work when trying to persuade people to think your way. It just isn’t a healthy form of communication.

Okay, now I’m just being a dick. Apologies.

Aside from that, I wanted more from the characters. We’re constantly with Evangeline who is super whiny and annoying. Now, I don’t have to like the main character in order to like a story as long as I like the side characters. The problem here is that all of the characters are flat and beyond stereotypical. Lucifer is suave and manipulative and hiding dark deeds and desires. But he loves his daughter. But, does he really? The couple of times he shows this love could also just be him manipulating her for future plans. And then there’s Michael. He’s just a lovesick teenager, really. There’s nothing special about him. The few other characters we get to meet are just filling their role. They don’t have any personality. It’s sad.

The plot had potential, but it needed a little more thought. Some things were great, like the key/book thing, but a lot of it felt rushed and random. It definitely seemed like it was written by a pantser (someone who writes without plotting things out first) who didn’t bother to go back and smooth out certain details. I’m a pantser. It happens. And maybe this was completely plotted. I have no idea. It’s just a feeling I get.

Ultimately, in case you didn’t pick up on it, I did not like Evangeline’s Heaven. I was hoping for so much more, but it fell flat. Oh well.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Mostly because I can’t do one and a half on most sites. If you’re super into the fall of Lucifer stories, check it out. I guess. But you’re not missing anything by giving it a pass.

Thoughts on VIOLET MADE OF THORNS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are about the same as usual. The fridge died, so that’s been annoying for Dad. A new one has been ordered though. Anyway, it’s book review time! This month, I wasn’t really in the mood for a cozy, so I went for a fantasy story instead. Violet Made of Thorns is the first in a duology by Gina Chen. It was released yesterday (the 26th) from Delacorte Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Violet Made of Thorns follows Violet Lune, the Seer of the Sun Capital, as she tries to navigate politics and romance and the annoyances of a love/hate relationship with the crown prince, Cyrus. She’s cynical and a liar and everything she does is to make herself irreplaceable. But between a prophecy, the appearance of a witch and beasts, and the inevitability of war, Violet is forced to confront her own selfishness and the perceived limits of her power before she can truly discover her abilities. The world is on the brink of destruction. Cyrus is the key. Can she manipulate him and save everything or will her meddling push everything over the edge?

Okay, I’m just going to preface this review by saying that the pacing was absolutely awful and it made me hate everything about this book. It was so repetitive. The first two thirds of the book are basically Violet assuring the reader that she’s a manipulative, ice hearted bitch who’s only looking out for herself. When she’s not doing that, she’s having some stupid argument with Cyrus that will just end in groping and kissing. Like, dude. Just screw each other already. And most of the action was squeezed into the last third of the book and given no room to breathe. It could’ve been great, but everything is so rushed by that point and I was so annoyed at the slog to get to it that I couldn’t enjoy it.

The characters… meh. Violet acts like she has what it takes to be a big bad, but she’s kind of a wuss. She lets herself get conned repeatedly (and she knows it), but keeps making the same idiotic decisions. I’m very much reminded of those dipwads who act like they have fighting skills and crumple into a crying mess the first time they get popped in the face. That’s Violet. Cyrus isn’t much better. He knows he’s being used by literally everyone, but he just lets it happen. At least he tries to make things happen even if he goes about it the wrong way. But all he really seems to want to do is get in Violet’s pants, so to speak. The rest of the characters are pretty standard for a fantasy and unremarkable. Meh.

There’s not really much more to say about this one. It has potential, but needs so much work. The relationship development is super inconsistent. The plot is fine, but the execution is horrible.

Ultimately, I just didn’t like Violet Made of Thorns. If I randomly come across the second book, I might pick it up, but nothing about the first one makes me want to seek it out.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Mostly because I can’t do one and a half on most sites. There are better fantasy books out there, so I don’t suggest this one.

Thoughts on THE ARCHIVIST

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday? It’s the last one of the month, so you know what that means. Book review time! I decided to try something a little different. It’s kind of dark fantasy meets mystery/thriller. It was a last minute pick from the “read now” selection because I forgot to request something earlier. But it sounded like something I would enjoy. The Archivist by V.S. Nelson was released yesterday (the 28th) from Matador Books. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Nice cover.

The Archivist follows Sun as she tries to free her and her sister Laure from an abusive father figure. To do this, she enlists the help of a young man simply known as the Archivist. He has special abilities that allow him to save the essence of people who are dying among other things he hasn’t discovered yet. Unfortunately, the trio end up in the snare of someone who lures him in by stealing the essences of suicidal teenage girls.

The story started out really strong. The pacing was tight and the plot was interesting, but when the climax showed up and there were only like 15 pages left, my heart sank. There was no way to wrap up all the loose ends for a strong finish in that limited of a space. But I kept reading. Only to be proven right. There’s zero satisfaction at the end, but it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger where you know a second book is coming. It’s just a let down. I know… not every story gets a happy ending. I’m fine with that. But even the unhappy endings need to feel satisfying, like an appropriate stopping point has been reached. This one just felt like it didn’t really know where it was going, so everything kind of fell apart. I’m hoping for some kind of follow up (maybe a short story or novella) to wrap things up, but I doubt it’ll happen.

Nope.

The characters were great. Sun was strong and caring despite everything she had been through. Laure needed more page time, especially for her big reveal. It wasn’t as woven into the story as it should’ve been, so it feels like it comes from nowhere. Plus, I liked her more than Sun and wanted to get to know her better. But my favorite was the Archivist. Poor dude doesn’t even get a name. And he was never really taught how to be a normal human being. Instead, he’s basically a freak that people avoid because they don’t understand him. And he’s mostly okay with that. The rest of the characters were a little flat. There were too many of them in a relatively short book. And so many weren’t even introduced until later. There was no room to flesh them out.

There was a dual POV in this book. It switched between the Archivist and Sun each chapter. But the narrative voice didn’t actually change much between them. Everything read as detached and matter-of-fact. It was an interesting choice since most thrillers tend to have an excitable, compelling voice that drags the reader forward. Personally, I liked the tone of this book. It was different, but it fit the Archivist’s personality. Sun’s sections could have been a bit more lively and desperate to match her personality though.

Most thrillers are go go go, but not this one.

The writing was good. Everything flowed really well up until the last two chapters, when everything kind of imploded. It was a pretty quick read actually.

Ultimately, I liked The Archivist, but I felt it could’ve used some work, especially around the ending. It just needed some fleshing out. If there’s a follow up, I’ll probably check it out, but I don’t think I’ll actively go looking for other books by Nelson.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If it sounds like something you would love, pick it up. But otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Thoughts on BURIED IN A GOOD BOOK

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are quiet. SSDD if you know what I mean. But it’s the last Wednesday of May, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I decided to stick with something I’m used to, something on the predictable side. So, I went with the first book in a new cozy mystery series. Buried in a Good Book by Tamara Berry was released yesterday (the 24th) from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover and mostly relevant to the story, except the canoe.

Buried in a Good Book follows Tess, who’s fresh off a divorce, as she drags her teenage daughter Gertie into the woods for a much needed escape. Unfortunately, when they arrive at the cabin Tess inherited from her grandfather, a strange set of circumstances unearths a body. Being a mystery writer, Tess leaps at the chance to help solve a real life murder while avoiding her looming deadline and messy personal life. Plus, small town life seems to be helping her daughter cope with her absentee father a bit. What could go wrong?

Where to start? The plot was fairly standard, but with an annoying writer constantly comparing everything to her books. The hot sheriff is exactly like her detective, at least looks-wise. There’s a new bestie who encourages all of the shenanigans. The sullen teenage daughter who’s too smart for her own good is a rare addition to cozies, but not unheard of. The only problem with the plot is that the cast of characters is so small that you know right away the baddie is either going to be a peripheral character who doesn’t get much page time or the dreaded random character who comes from nowhere. There’s really only one person it could be, so I mostly kept reading for character development.

Speaking of characters, I really liked most of them, which made the book worth reading. Yes, Tess is annoying as fuck with her “Detective Gonzales would do it this way…” crap, but as a mother and human being in general, she’s pretty okay. She’s navigating being newly single and realizing that she has no one in her life besides the ex and her daughter. And making friends as an adult is HARD. It’s all very relatable. Gertie is adorable. Sheriff Boyd is grumpy, but lovable. Nicki is a little flat, but that’s because she’s trying to be something she isn’t. Hopefully her character will have some room to grow in the next book.

I admit, there were some really weird red herrings that made me mutter “wtf?” to myself a few times. The Bigfoot thing, I was down with. It was strange, but whatever. I liked it. A lot of Tess’s theories on things were just plain nuts, though. It kind of slowed down the pacing towards the end. But once things came back around to relatively believable scenarios, things sped up again.

The writing was actually wonderful. It was quirky and sarcastic and pulled me along without becoming too much. There was some over the top stuff, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to quit reading. Roll my eyes, yes. Stop reading? Nah. Mostly, it was a fun and quick read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Buried in a Good Book. I’ll definitely grab the next book in the series when it comes out. The writing style and characters make it worth a second chance at least.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If cozy mysteries are your thing, definitely check it out. It’s pretty short and fun, so yeah. I recommend it.

Thoughts on THE FERVOR

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? It’s the last Wednesday of April. Can you believe it? That means it’s book review time! This month, I tried something a little different. I’m not usually into historical stuff, but I wanted a little horror, so I requested an ARC of The Fervor by Alma Katsu. It was released on April 26th from Putnam. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

The cover is okay, but feels a little meh to me.

The Fervor follows a handful of people including Meiko and Aiko, a mother and daughter stuck in one of the internment camps in the U.S. during World War II; Archie, a preacher who lost his wife when a mysterious balloon exploded during a trip to the mountains; and Fran, a reporter following a story despite numerous warnings against doing so. A strange illness spreads in the internment camp before flowing over into the nearby towns. Throw in visions of demons and strange spiders to spice things up. It’s all just strange enough that our protagonists decide they need to figure out what’s going on.

Multiple POVs are used until they all eventually converge into one. It takes a lot for me to get into stories that are structured like this because I usually hate at least one of the characters. This time it was Archie. And Fran didn’t exactly grasp my attention either. So, I found myself wanting to skip their sections. But I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people use this method. I even understand it in this particular book. But, for me, it breaks up the tension in a way that slows the story down too much. I wasn’t able to get into a flow where I wanted to keep reading beyond what I needed to read in order to finish in time. On the other hand, I also never dreaded picking it back up the next day, so it wasn’t like it was bad. Just slow.

I enjoyed the mixture of Japanese mythology with the horrors of WWII. The blending of historical fiction with a subtle layer of supernatural horror was excellent. I confess that I’m not a big history fan, so I don’t know much about WWII beyond the basics. In other words, this book is my first experience with the Fu-Go (fire balloons) that Japan sent to America. They are weirdly fascinating. And the way the book used them to further the supernatural elements of the story was great. I love it when books teach me odd things.

The real horror of the story is, of course, people. The way hate and fear spreads so quickly with just a tiny push. The illness that causes paranoia and irritation that eventually becomes hostility and outright rage. It serves as a magnification of what was already going on at the time. And how people will use that fear and hate to further their own whims. It’s awful. People are awful. Yet, somehow the story ends on a hopeful note with people willing to do what’s right. I didn’t actually believe the ending, but maybe that’s because I’m a bit cynical. But the hope is still there regardless of how I feel.

The writing itself was strong. Everything flowed and made for a nice read. Like I said, it was just slow. That’s not bad. It helped focus me on what was happening more than if I had flown through it.

Ultimately, I liked The Fervor. I’m pretty sure I have a couple of Katsu’s other books on my TBR list and I’ll keep them there because her writing is worth another look.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. It was slow, but enjoyable. If you’re into historical fiction with a twist, I recommend giving it a shot.

Thoughts on CHEDDAR OFF DEAD

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? Allergies are kicking my ass, but otherwise things are okay. I’ve been on a music kick. It’s about the only thing I can focus on with my sinuses throbbing. But enough complaining (maybe). It’s the last Wednesday of the month! That means it’s book review time. I went back to the safety of a cozy mystery this month. Cheddar Off Dead is the first in Korina Moss’s Cheese Shop mystery series. It was released yesterday (the 29th) by St. Martin’s Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s do the thing!

Cute cover and pretty relevant to the story.

Cheddar Off Dead follows Willa Bauer, cheesemonger and owner of Yarrow Glen’s newest shop, Curds and Whey. A cheese shop. She’s new to town and inexperienced when it comes to putting down roots and making lasting friendships. It doesn’t help that a well-known (and severely disliked) critic is murdered outside her shop with a custom cheese knife she had planned to give out at an event. Not trusting the detective, Willa feels compelled to clear her name before any lasting damage can be done to her reputation. The problem? Her investigation means potentially alienating the handful of people she’s started bonding with, including the attractive mead maker across the street.

Let’s start with the plot. Instead of our heroine returning home after a bad breakup, she decides to start over in a new town. There’s still a bad breakup, but it’s unclear how recent it was. A lot of her past is unclear timeline-wise. Anyway, her newness doesn’t stop Willa from finding the best friend who encourages her shenanigans. There are two potential love interests. Future love triangles? Probably, but I doubt it’ll be the fun kind. Of course there’s an overprotective detective. Plenty of red herrings. I admit I didn’t catch onto the murderer until later, mostly because we don’t learn anything about them until pretty much everyone else is ruled out. I honestly felt a little cheated by that, but this isn’t the first cozy to do it that way. I’m just glad it wasn’t a random person who only got mentioned once. They’re there throughout the book, just not really expanded on until super late. So, standard cozy fare with a couple of little twists.

The pacing was off. The first third was beyond slow. Like, if I had been reading it for fun, I probably would’ve given up after three chapters. It was that slow. But it picked up after a while. I think when the cheese talk finally ran its course, everything smoothed out. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about cheese, but when it’s not even interesting facts, it gets boring. But less is more. The first third of the novel was like cheese info dumps. Later on, there was still a bunch of cheese talk, but it was spread out in a way that felt natural.

Most of the characters were likeable. Willa occasionally annoyed me, but that’s just because she’s a busybody. That’s why most cozy mystery heroines annoy me. Otherwise, she was fine. I preferred Baz, Archie, and Mrs. Schultz. I would’ve loved to learn more about them. Detective Heath was a little flat, but he has potential. Same with Roman. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m saying this because I love cheese, but there could’ve been a bigger focus on character development and less on cheese.

The writing was fine. Like I said, the pacing was off and the characters were flat. But the actual words were fine. Nothing memorable. I finished it about a week ago and am already forgetting most of it. Ah well.

Ultimately, I was just meh about Cheddar Off Dead. If I come across the next book, I’ll pick it up to see if it’s any better, but I doubt I’ll actively look for it.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Two and a half, really. If you’re super into cheese and enjoy average cozies, pick it up. But you’re not missing anything if you don’t.

Thoughts on THE CICADA TREE

Howdy, howdy! I hope everyone is doing okay as February comes to a close. It’s been a strange month where each day bleeds into the next without warning, but at the same time, it feels like the month is dragging. No idea why. Anyway, it’s book review time. I stepped outside my comfort zone a little bit this time with an historical fiction book. The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney was released yesterday (the 22nd) from Moonshine Cove Publishing. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it.

Nice cover.

The Cicada Tree follows Analeise Newell, an 11-year-old who is trying to navigate life in 1956 Georgia. Emotions run high as she struggles to figure out how everything she loves fits together: her friendship with Etta Mae, her crush on Abel Darlington, and her newfound obsession with the Mayfields. As Analeise digs into her obsession, she finds more darkness than she bargains for in that Mayfield shine she’s so attracted to. It’s all set against the backdrop of summer in Georgia when the whine of the cicadas can either lull you to sleep or drive you crazy.

I’ll be honest, this book wasn’t for me. I’m all for southern gothic and blending supernatural into regular fiction, but something about this book kept me from getting into it. I think it’s because the ages of the characters just didn’t feel right. Analeise and the rest of the kids all seemed more like teenagers than 11-year-olds. I’d go as young as 14, but honestly I kept thinking they were closer to 16 or so. Yes, I realize that younger kids can be stupidly vicious too, but the vocabulary and most of the actions just felt older. There were a few scenes where I thought “okay, these are younger kids,” but they were few and far between.

The fact that the book was written in first person from Analeise’s perspective didn’t help with the age issue. If we’re that close to a character, I expect the narrative voice to fit the age of the character, but it didn’t. Maybe the story is being told from grown-Analeise’s perspective. If that’s the case, fine. But there was nothing to suggest that in the book. At least not the version I had access to. I saw somewhere that the final version is supposed to have an epilogue, so maybe it becomes clearer in there.

Actually, an epilogue would be really helpful because the ending left things super vague and not even in a “create your own ending” kind of way. It was completely unsatisfying. Like, I might look for it at my library just to see if anything is cleared up in the final version. I’m not tempted enough to buy it, but I’ll definitely check the library system for it.

The writing itself was a little purple for me. It wasn’t bad by any means, just a tad overly descriptive for my tastes. And I normally talk about the characters, but I had zero sympathy for any of them, except maybe Abel. He was an okay kid. Etta Mae was too angelic. Everyone else was too selfish for me to get behind.

Ultimately, I wasn’t a fan of The Cicada Tree. Maybe I’ll like it a little better if I see the epilogue, but I doubt it. There was too much I didn’t care for. If I come across something else by Gwaltney, I’d look at it because the writing was okay, but I won’t be searching for anything.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. If you’re into southern gothic and are interested in the premise, give it a shot. If not, you’re not missing anything.