Mystery, Reviews

Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson #25)

Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson, #25)Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 2.25 of 5 stars

I signed up for the Goodreads Giveaway of Coconut Layer Cake Murder for my mother who’s been a fan of the series for a few years now. She enjoyed this 25th book in the Hanna Swenson series enough to give it 3.5 stars, saying that the steadiness of the familiar character was comforting like a warm cookie and the precise explanations made the story easy to follow even when her attention was divided. She did admit, though, that she prefers to listen to the audiobook versions.

I’ve been wanting to check the series out myself since my mother and I have similar tastes in books and, I must admit, because the books are so pretty (It isn’t judging by the cover if you’re just observing that they are attractive, right?) so, after she read it, I decided to give it a whirl. I was a little worried that in starting with book #25 that I’d be lost but while I did have some questions about the characters and past events that they referred to, that wasn’t one of my problems with this book.

The first thing that caught my attention was the stiff, stilted nature of Fluke’s writing, especially in the dialogue. It felt as if Hannah was talking to strangers or acquaintances rather than her family and friends. Also, the characters often said the name of the person they were speaking to way too many times as if Fluke had read books where pronouns had been overused causing confusing and she wanted to make sure that didn’t happen here. I get that; I’ve read books like that too but her was just as annoying. Then there are the detailed explanations of what each character is doing – step-by-step lists of mundane actions that have little or no bearing on the story or the mystery. This attention to detail works very well for writing recipes; in fact, I loved the way she wrote the recipes with so many details, tips, and suggestions, but their inclusion within the story was distracting. As was the characters’ talking about the recipes. There was more about the baked goods than any actual sleuthing which begs the question: Why not just write a cookbook? (which Fluke has done with her Lake Eden Cookbook).

As for the story itself, I expect certain things from a cozy mystery. Either it is a really good mystery with an interesting amateur detective or there is a bit of fun mixed into the character’s story or the detective work. This book had neither. The mystery was interesting for a while but I figured out ‘whodunit’ pretty quickly and just had to wait for Fluke to stop writing recipes and Hannah to focus on the task at hand to find out if I was right. I was though the murderer’s explanation left a bit to be desired.  At least it was a quick read.  I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of Hannah Swenson’s mysteries though I’ll probably ask my mother which great guy Hannah chooses and how that works out because that part of the story was more interesting than the murder case at the center of it. 

I don’t read a lot of mysteries but when I do they are usually cozy mysteries like this.  If you enjoy a good cozy mystery with interesting characters and a bit of fun, I recommend M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series starting with The Quiche of Death.  If you’re looking for a really intriguing mystery written by a master mystery writer, you cannot go wrong with Agatha Christie.  I’ve been reading her Miss Marple mysteries which may be the gold standard of cozy mysteries.

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: Sunset Beach

Sunset BeachSunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Kay Andrews is one of my go-to authors for a fun beach-type read so I am grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity to read her latest novel, Sunset Beach. I am a fan of Andrews’s southern fiction that combines elements of chick-lit, romance, and mystery with a healthy dose of humor and beach community atmosphere to create a fun, light read.

Sunset Beach, which is the story of Drue Campbell who is having a rough year – a horrific injury ends her kiteboarding career, her beloved mother passes away, and she loses a boyfriend and her job as a beach bar waitress. When her estranged father reenters her life and offers her a lifeline in the form of a job at his law firm and a home that had once been her grandparents’, Drue takes him up on it when she runs out of options. She ends up getting caught up in two mysteries. This all seems like a pretty good setup for a fun Mary Kay Andrews novel. What it was was a disappointment. It lacked most of Andrews’s trademark humor and romance to focus instead more on the mystery (or mysteries in this case). As a mystery, it wasn’t even that well executed and the heroine, while as capable as some of Andrews’s others, wasn’t endearing, just whiny.  I really had a difficult time getting into this one but that probably had more to do with my expectations of a Mary Kay Andrews than the novel’s quality.

If you enjoy fun southern fiction, I recommend Mary Kay Andrews’s the first book in Weezie and Bebe Mysteries novels, Savannah Blues .  If what you want is a thrilling mystery with a healthy sense of humor and a feisty heroine, I recommend Janet Evanovich’s extremely popular Stephanie Plum series (at least the first four books, which is as far as I’ve gotten so far, are a lot of fun).
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Mystery, Reviews, Romance

Review: Midnight in Austenland

Midnight in Austenland (Austenland, #2)Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Austenland novel was a light, fun romance – my fantasy put down to paper. With Midnight in Austenland, Hale attempted to add a bit more weight with a genuine murder mystery set in this make-believe world. At times it worked well as an homage not just to the novels of Jane Austen – particularly Northanger Abbey – but also to the mysteries of Agatha Christie, of which Charlotte is so fond. Other times Charlotte’s wishy-washy nature and repetitious inner dialogue. By the time I got halfway through, every time I saw the words “Inner Thoughts”, I wanted to scream. These little aggravations and the mind-boggling explanation of the motive for murder took away from the romance, which is the real reason I read these books.

If you enjoy Jane Austen fanfiction type novels, I recommend reading Austenland, which is light and sometimes silly but so much fun to read.  If it’s the gothic mystery/romance you love, read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which I love for its sense of humor

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: Broadchurch (Broadchurch #1)

BroadchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely adored the Broadchurch television series. I couldn’t get enough of it. So when I spotted this novelization of the show’s first series while browsing through my local library, I snatched it up. I worried, however, that having watched the show I would know all of the twists that lead to the surprise ending that I would be bored. What the book offered, though, that the show didn’t was a further insight into the inner turmoil and hidden emotions of the characters. This added another dimension to the complex characters and the story. The actors did a brilliant job of conveying many unspoken thoughts and emotions but there are some things that cannot always be seen. It was an enjoyable read especially for a fan of the original show who, like me, miss the series. I think those who never watched the show but enjoy a good police procedural and family drama would also enjoy reading Broadchurch.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries aside from the occasional cozy mystery so I don’t

landscape-uktv-broadchurch-s02e05-02
David Tennant (Alec Hardy) and Olivia Coleman (Ellie Miller) in Broadchurch.

really have a book to recommend if you enjoy reading Broadchurch but if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend watching the original show.  There are three (much too short) series and each is brilliantly acted and thought-provoking.  

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin #1)

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin, #1)Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered the Agatha Raisin mystery series through the TV series that aired here on PBS. Like the show, the first book in M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series of mystery novels, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, is lighter on mystery than it is on the fun. Agatha is a flawed character who lends a bit of believability to what is essentially an entertaining romp through the Cotswolds. This kind of cozy mystery is the perfect read for these chilly winter nights. Just throw on a warm blanket and disappear into rural England.

Agatha’s new life is full of interesting and eccentric characters my favorite of which is Bill Wong. I look forward to getting know more about each of them as I read more the delightful series. I only wish I understood more of the particularly English elements in the story such as the unique accents and some of the pop culture and historical references.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries like Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death with its amateur sleuth and rural setting, I definitely recommend reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series of novels.

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