Monday Book Review: A Trifle Dead

I’m really going to get back to reviewing cozy mysteries… I’ve said this before, a dozen times over, and this time I’m a bit more serious about it. I've so many on my virtual bookshelves and my Unread list spans... well, you know, the usual number.

This week, we're covering A Trifle Dead.

My summary: Tabitha is a 20-something who bakes blue muffins*, tries to wrangle the local police force into new cuisines, and gets pulled into a murder mystery.

Plot: Zips along like it's had a few too many of the coffees poured at Tabitha's cafe. She spends a good portion of her time concocting new recipes and culinary inventions, and the murder investigation tends to be information and places she stumbles across. There's no list-making brain-storming malarkey going on here. I'm not sure how much sleep these characters actually get, but it doesn't look or sound like much. A suitable mix of seriousness and frivolity happens. Layered well, like the titular trifle.

The murderer: Now I'm rereading the book, I have remembered who it was. First time I read the book, I didn't guess. I actually guessed wrong, which I like in a mystery. If the reader is guessing wrong then the author is doing something right in misdirection.

Characters: You get to know them bit-by-bit. Tabby, as the narrator, does tend to give you chunks of information about herself but they're digestible. Others around her are introduced and given life a little more slowly, but I find this method works. Comfortable. Eases you into it.

Cover and title: Each in the series has a food-pun, which I like. The covers themselves are simple, just one image which is a visual representation of the punny title.

I chucked out the Netflix scale, but this is a book you can put down and pick up a few times without really losing your place. I have read it maybe three times and remember bits and pieces of it well enough to be constructing this review.

Overall 4.1 stars. The murderer is a bit of a backgrounder, but not so much that they blend into the cafe's wall art. Food descriptions aren't just cake, which is good, and they're lingered over a little longer than in other cozies I've read. They don't take centre stage though, which is good. Random little threads of amusing anecdotes make this cozier to read, like you're stepping in to Tabby's life. She's not just going here, there and that other place: she's doing interesting wacky things that manage to not be OTT.

*not a euphemism

Food comparison: Ooh, tough one. A plate of good sushi that you select yourself, with a hot green tea. It's not wildly expensive, but good nonetheless.

Monday Book Review: The Sugar Hit

Do mine eyes deceive me? Did I get organized to write a book review? Why yes, I did. I suppose I was in the spirit. Finally found something that I wanted to review.

So. The Sugar Hit. Second in the series, but it's the most recent I read - though the first one has stuck with me which is unusual.

My summary. Chocoholic opens her chocolate-store, murder ensues.

Plot. Moves quickly. Since this is the second book in the series I felt the author was still finding her groove a little. Narel, our chocoholic protagonist, finally manages to open the chocolate shop she was wanting to open in Book 1, but things happened. Also, I had a bit of an issue with The Reveal. It all happened rather quickly at the end of the book - I was honestly starting to get a bit nervous. When I read eBooks, I keep an eye on the little progress bar and it seemed really close to the end. The Reveal felt a bit more like "Wham, bam, Joe* did it, thank you ma'am."

The murderer. Kind of a random person who doesn't spend a lot of time on-screen. Not someone I was expecting, which is good, but this is the sort of series which requires red herrings - not really a case of the "this one person who did that thing that one time". Puts in a cameo to reveal the Dastardly Plot and is subsequently dealt with.

Characters. Narel appears to eat chocolate all the damn time. Not sure if she eats anything else - though there was mention of a fruit at one point. As of this book it's even spread to something called chocolate pasta which I am terrified to Google. I spent a portion of this book just wanting to make her a sandwich and salad, and I don't even like salad. She does have a cool best friend who refreshingly is not the Love Interest and she doesn't appear to be pining after him.

Cover and Title. Cute. Title's obviously a pun, cover is a bit too... something for my taste. Bearing in mind the affinity for chocolate I'd expected it to feature more obviously on the cover.

Overall, 3.4 stars. The villain at the end Gets It in the same way as the villain in the preceding book. I hope that Book 3 will have something different - otherwise it risks becoming predictable, and truth be told once I saw the confrontation I began wondering how it would be manipulated to mimic book 1. I do wish I could give a portion of a star on Goodreads, it would make ranking so much easier.

Food comparison. White-bread sandwich, but a homemade white bread. It has deli meat and like one salad thing on it. Character development in subsequent (Narel eating less damn chocolate, for instance) and a different method of dealing with the villain would elevate it to wholegrain bread.

*not Joe.

Monday Book Review: It Cannoli Be Murder

Today, the third installment of Karoline Barrett's "Bread and Batter" series: It Cannoli Be Murder. Possible spoilers ahead.

In short, Molly and her baking partner Olivia get sucked into a new mystery when a dude with alleged mafia ties shows up in town, buying up a winery and wine-and-dining their good friend Emily. When a Senator - and then her twin sister - show up dead, all fingers point to the mob. Needless to say, theories run wild, and Molly gets drawn into the mystery. Again.

At around 417 pages, there's a bit of heft, more than I expected in a story like this. Normally I'd expect it to sort of hover around 300, maybe the low 300's at a stretch. Either way the length is pretty good, I don't think I remember there being much that could be cut. I may've skimmed in a place or two, but then that might have had more to do with being on a train and near my stop than actual, you know, plot impatience. I read this over 2-3 days, because this sort of word count doesn't fit into one of my evenings. Good for a weekend, I imagine, or a slow rainy day.

So. The plot. I really enjoyed the way it moved at a quick clip, taking no prisoners with who gets it and how. Molly's involvement became a little more above-board, with her getting permission from the authorities to do a bit of noseying around - with the blessing of her detective boyfriend. Typically cozies have the MC sneaking and snooping around, so it was a nice change of pace to twist that around.

The mystery was solved quite near to the end, I was starting to get a little nervous. Have to say, I didn't cotton on to whodunnit. There were also a few snazzy twists added into the mix, making me slow down (normally I tear through a book like... like how I tear into a cookie) and the final reveal was something I wasn't expecting. At least two of my clever theories were wrong. (Side note - one of the theories was mistaken identity. Spoilers.)

There was also development of the bakery further (reading about the baking experiments is always fun, I don't recommend it on an empty stomach though), and some of the background/supporting characters from earlier books stuck around and made themselves at home. It's always nice to see when that happens. It's also good to see when the backgrounders get their own smaller storylines tucked in, not just the main.

If I were to say one thing, I'd like the page count to have come down a bit further. While the length did work, and the longer story meant longer suspense, I found that time constrictions meant I was picking it up and putting it down. Made it a bit harder to stay in it - however, like I said, that's my own time-poor self talking. Overall I really enjoyed it.

4 stars.

Monday Book Review: The St Valentine's Day Cookie Massacre

I feel like I should run these thematically. A month of cozy mystery, a month of YA... I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet. I've read two skinny books tonight, but no murder mystery. Oops. (Also, I definitely, most emphatically did not download another 25 free Kobo eBooks)

So, okay. I'm pantsing here. I dug through my library and turned this one up: St Valentine's Day Cookie Massacre.

My summary: In cozy Hatter's Cove, the worst that happens is a bad restaurant review - which, with Kat the not-a-food-critic around, happens. Frequently. There's the opening of a new bakery, which sets the sinister scene.

Plot: Neat, tidy and quick. Moves swiftly through setting up the backstory, which I've noticed is a common enough scene in these types of cozy mystery. More on that shortly though. Follows the same sort of mystery plotline, in which someone gets bumped off and the protagonist is naturally the one quick enough on the uptake to figure it all out. It's all in a day's work, of course, and the mystery is unravelled just in time to meet the deadlines.

Characters: With Kat, it's kind of a heavy info-dump. If the Chef Maurice series gives you threads of details about the characters, Cookie Massacre gives you heavy blocky paragraphs. If you like reading it all at once and then chancing forgetting it as you read on, then it's good. Similar tale with the others, where you learn it all at once. Development isn't bad, but I did feel it was a touch slow-going to bring the characters to life in places.

Title and cover. Pretty cover, the title is a bit of a mouthful. Also, it's a tad inaccurate since there's no real massacre to speak of in the book. Homage to the actual St Valentine, one presumes.

I'm not operating my Netflix scale this week (it broke), but I am operating the interest-and-visualizing scale. I can't fault the description of locations and people; they're vivid enough that you can picture them.

Overall, 3 stars. Character development would have given it another half. If there were a sequel I'd be keeping an eye out for further fleshing out the characters. Give them - or take away - quirks and traits. The murderer became apparent as it progressed, mainly because of how motives were laid out and the facts gathered.

Food comparison: Chicken salad. Perfectly nice on its own, but wants a touch of seasoning so as to not be bland.

Monday Book Review: Oh Yeah, Audrey!

Right. I feel like you ought to know the reader before you know the book, so: I read this YA novel through Grown-Up Adult glasses. Wait, no, I don't wear glasses. Oops. I also read YA novels because I once came up with a NaNoWriMo which, when I do something with it, will be geared at young adults. Writer's cap on. Also, I'm a young adult.

Anyway. Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw.

Summary: 16-year-old Gemma runs an Audrey Hepburn fan-blog, with a few others she has encountered. They decide to visit New York and do an Audrey Hepburn Tour Day in honour of the anniversary of her death. It does not go as planned.

The story is told on the clock: 4am, wakes up and does her elaborate costume. On the one hand I kind of liked the journal-type way of recording this, but on the other hand it made me want to keep score of what the time was on each chapter so I knew how much time had passed. (Overall, about a day) And on the one foot, since I've got two hands, I disliked it because I felt it made the story feel like things that happened and when they happened.

The plot was lean. They went here and did this; went somewhere else for a while; hung around some other place. The schedule gets ripped up fairly early - saw that one coming. It almost seemed more like a diary of events and - spoiler alert - Gemma doesn't end up making the one commitment. Spent ages just on getting in character, thinking about Hepburn and once the plot does inch along, the one thing they have all been going on about gets chucked aside.

Character development. Thin - four people, already in their roles. Midway enters the fifth too-good-to-be-true dude. Guess what, he is too good to be true.

I will concede there was a bit of growth with Gemma, but that's more regarding the Thing That Happened To Her. The rest of them were already placed in their roles, and there was no time or space for them to grow any further. Kind of like when you want a toasted sandwich and don't have time to do the toasting, so you just have a soggy sandwich and it falls apart when you eat.

Title and cover: title I guess is a nod to the Tumblr blogs you may find, entitled F--- Yeah X. Cover is cute, font's a bit girly for my liking and maybe a bit too monochrome. Reminds me a bit of pop-art.

I ran through it in the span of a night. I read (skimmed in places), with Netflix in the background and sporadically going back to repeat a line of dialogue. It barely slowed me down.

Overall? I'd say 2 stars. The whole thing about a pack of teens running off to a busy city to meet up also bugged the hell out of me, I guess because I was taught Stranger Danger as a kid. Not to mention how this girl shares her blog login detail with total strangers. Gah. Thin plot and not-really developed characters took away a lot of the appeal. The premise is cute, the reality is not.

Food comparison: Something like marshmallow. Light, fluffy, but haphazardly topped with a bit of peanut butter for substance (and something that sticks in your teeth two hours later).