Thoughts on THE SCENT KEEPER

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last week of May already, so you know what that means!  It’s book review time.  I went with something a bit more literary than I’m used to, but I wanted to shake things up a bit.  When I was browsing NetGalley, The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister caught my eye.  So, as usual, I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for giving me access to the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.  The novel was due out on May 21st.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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The cover is absolutely lovely.

The Scent Keeper follows Emmeline as she grows up on a remote island with only her father and their mysterious scent-papers to keep her company.  Her childhood is filled with fairy tales and the type of fantastical fun that only opening up your senses can get you.  However, as she grows, so does her curiosity.  After making discoveries her father refuses to explain, life starts changing until she’s finally flung out into the real world with no safety net.  Can she adjust to real life?  How is she supposed to find out about her origins when her father never told her much?  These are just a couple of questions the book explores.

First, I want to talk about the use of the senses in this book because it’s amazing.  Most stories tend to lean hard on sight because that’s probably the easiest way to explain the world around you.  Not this book.  As you can probably guess, it uses the sense of smell to propel us through Emmeline’s world.  Her other senses work fine, but her nose is what she’s been taught to follow all her life.  She reads scents the way other people read facial expressions.  Smells can’t betray her the way other things can.  Or that’s what she thinks.  But the focus on smells as both deep memory triggers and helpful everyday tools is really neat.

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Have you ever noticed that the longer you look at the word “smell,” the more it looks like it isn’t spelled right?  No?  Just me?  Okay.

The story itself is weird because it has a tendency to move really slow, then speed up, then keep jumping between slow and fast.  I don’t know if that was just because I wasn’t as interested in Emmeline as I was some of the other characters or what, but even the slow parts were nice.  I was in love with the story, so the pace didn’t really matter.  Then the ending happened and everything fell apart for me.  I knew what was going to happen, but not where it would happen.  I was hoping for a return to the island for the big finale, but what I got was an abrupt ending that left so much open that it was unsatisfying.  I mean, Fisher (the love interest) was waiting for Emmeline to return to the cove (her childhood home after she had left the island) with him.  They had plans.  Does she just leave him waiting?  Does she go back home?  Nothing is explained and it reminded me why I avoid straight litfic.  Nothing is ever satisfactorily resolved and it’s annoying as all get out.

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As far as the writing goes, it is a beautiful and lyrical experience.  The description is gorgeous.  It makes the focus on scent easy to picture or understand even when I wasn’t sure what some of the things smelled like.  The pace is weird but the rhythm of the writing flows nicely.

Ultimately, I’m happy to have had a chance to be exposed to such wonderful writing in The Scent Keeper, but the ending ruined everything for me.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of five stars.  What I enjoyed of it, I really enjoyed, but what I didn’t like got the best of me in the end.  If you don’t mind a story that just cuts off but has lovely prose, pick it up.

Thoughts on DEAD AS A DOOR KNOCKER

Howdy, howdy!  Since I missed last month’s book review, I figured I would go ahead and do it this week.  After all, I’m only a week late.  That’s not too bad, right?  For January, I picked up an advanced reader copy (ARC) of the first book in a new cozy mystery series.  Dead as a Door Knocker is the the first book in Diane Kelly’s House Flipper Mysteries.  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for granting me access to this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, we might as well get to the review!

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Cover is relevant to the book, but the knocker is all wrong.  It’s supposed to be the Green Man.

Dead as a Door Knocker introduces us to Whitney Whitaker, a 28-year-old who enjoys helping her cousins remodel houses and harbors dreams of becoming a real estate guru.  She lives with her parents and her cat, Sawdust, in Nashville and works at a small mom-and-pop property management firm.  When the firm’s biggest client offers her a deal on a property that’s too good to be true, she jumps on it.  However, the guy is murdered on the site and everything goes haywire from there.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I didn’t like this book.  The story was the same as every other cozy, which could have been fine.  Combine it with the fact that the main character is extremely unlikable and not even the parts from the cat’s point of view could save it.  Why is Whitney unlikable?  First off, she’s 28 and acts like she’s 15.  If she doesn’t get her way, she pouts or throws a fit.  Second, she’s a bully.  She runs around questioning people like she’s a cop or something, ambushing people and even forcing her foot in doorways so people can’t close the door, then has the gall the get upset when she gets a glass of iced tea thrown in her face.  I had zero respect for her.

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My thoughts exactly.

The background characters were flat and only served to enable Whitney’s antics.  She dragged her cousin and her best friend around as bodyguards, neither of whom ever bothered pointing out when she was crossing boundaries.  The detective let her go based on weak arguments and tantrums.  I get that it’s a story and all, but it still needs to be believable.  None of these characters came across as actual people, especially the police.

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Basically.

As far as the writing goes, it was a tight, quick read.  Every other sentence seemed like a well-worn cliché or at least a play on one.  If the author was aiming to make Whitney sound like a 15-year-old, she was spot on.  But don’t go into it hoping for the 28-year-old we’re supposed to be getting.

Ultimately, I was super disappointed in this story.  I just couldn’t get past the characters.  It’s not a series I’ll be following.

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Overall, I gave Dead as a Door Knocker one star out of five.  Pretty sure this is a first for me.  I honestly feel bad.  I really wanted to like it, but nope.  If you’re okay with childish characters and unrealistic police officers, try it.  Otherwise, you’re not missing anything.

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.

Thoughts On DEATH BY DUMPLING

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another last Wednesday of the month book review.  This month, I decided to go with another quick and fun cozy mystery.  It’s called Death by Dumpling, by Vivien Chien, and was released on March 27th.  Yes, 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.  Speaking of, let’s get to it!

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With a cover like that, who could resist picking this up?

Death by Dumpling follows Lana Lee as she starts working at her parents’ noodle house, something she never wanted to do.  She’s running away from a bad break up and the fact that she caused a scene while quitting her old job (this seems to be a common theme in many cozies).  All the attention of the mall where their restaurant is located seems to be on her.  At least until the property manager, Mr. Feng, winds up dead after eating shrimp dumplings from her parents’ restaurant.  Throw in a couple of potential suitors, a bestie who will indulge Lana’s PI fantasies, and a lot of mystery, and this book is the perfect recipe for a cozy.

As usual, I went into this story not really knowing what to expect.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  The characters are relateable.  Lana is sassy, outgoing, and definitely not the biggest snoop in this book.  She didn’t find the body, which was a nice change of pace from other cozies I’ve read.  She also had a decent reason to go snooping around.  It wasn’t that she was nosy that made her try to figure things out, though she certainly is, she was trying to clear the name of the restaurant’s head chef/her friend.  I found it to be a nice variation of the norm from other cozies I’m familiar with.

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Yeah.  And it’s not stalking, it’s social media analysis.

About the only complaint I had with this book was that I caught on to Mr. Feng’s big secret a little earlier than I think I was supposed to.  It wouldn’t have bothered me, except when Lana finds concrete proof, she still tries to make stupid excuses for the people involved.  I honestly think her mind would’ve gone exactly where it was supposed to go, instead of arguing with her bestie about it and trying to come up with an innocent excuse.  I get that the woman involved is like an aunt to Lana, but all the signs were there.  Why would she ignore them?  That part dragged a little bit for me.

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All the signs!

Otherwise, it was pretty easy to like this one.  The writing was succinct, but still conveyed a lot of personality.  Aside from dragging a little after I figured things out, the pacing swept me along.  I’m a super slow reader, but it only took me a week to finish this one.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Death by Dumpling.  I’m definitely happy to see that book two, Dim Sum of All Fears, is due out in August.  It’s going on my reading list!

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Overall, I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you’re looking for something quick and fun and you enjoy a saucy feel good mystery, it’s worth a look.