Month: June 2021

Book Review: Juggling Kittens by Matt Coleman

I was thrilled to be selected as a reviewer for “Juggling Kittens” by Pandamoon Publishing. I probably would not have discovered this book (and author) otherwise, and that would have been a shame. The author has a true gift for combining his life experiences with fictional situations in a highly compelling storytelling style. Drawing on his own history as a teacher, Mr. Coleman creates protagonist Ellis Mazer, a first-time teacher in Ruddy Creek, Arkansas. Everything about the teaching experience rings true, and Ellis’s musings about his career and life would have made for fascinating reading even without the mystery element.

Ellis quickly encounters a missing student, local thugs, drug dealers, and various other situations that I sincerely hope are entirely fictional. Everything feels authentic for the time and place in which it occurs, and makes for a great story as Ellis tries to find his student while maintaining his career and preparing for a new baby.

The major characters are all well drawn and intricate, and felt very much like real people. Settings were described with enough detail that I could envision them without bogging down the narrative. There’s plenty of action and investigating for the mystery fans, adeptly interspersed with character moments and daily events.

All in all, an excellent (and slightly haunting) novel, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read it.

Five out of five chunks of my favorite cheddar!

Book Review: Hip Set by Michael Fertik

I have nothing but good things to say about “Hip Set” by Michael Fertik. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this novel, but I ended up loving everything about it.

First off, I appreciated the setting….Tel Aviv, Israel, from the perspective of both natives and immigrants. The author provides detailed descriptions of the area, local businesses and residences, and daily life. I feel like I learned some things about modern-day Israel that I hadn’t thought about before. In addition, I learned a lot about the experiences of refugees in that country.

The actual mystery was also excellent. A corpse is discovered without ID, and our heroes must figure out who he was, who killed him, and why. Along the way, there is a great deal of investigating, interviewing, and theorizing, and I enjoyed observing while all of this took place. The pacing is good as well. While the action isn’t non-stop, there aren’t any dull moments either.

My favorite part of the novel was the character of Oscar Orleans himself. An African refugee and longtime resident of Tel Aviv hoping to gain citizenship some day, Oscar is a beautiful, practical, introspective man. It was a joy to gradually gain more and more insight into his character as the story progressed. His working relationship and friendship with police inspector Kobi Sambinsky also provides many valuable character moments.

I truly hope this book marks the start of an ongoing series, because I would love to read more about Oscar and Kobi and their future cases.

5 out of 5 perfect slices of provolone!

Book Review: Death Gone A-Rye by Winnie Archer

I don’t often choose to start a series with the sixth book, but when the opportunity to review “Death Gone A-Rye” came along, I had to take it. Why? Because I’ve read other books by author Winnie Archer (under another pen name) and thoroughly enjoyed them! I’m happy to say that this one did NOT disappoint! And as someone who jumped in with Book 6, I can report that it works fine as a stand-alone. I was easily able to figure out who everyone was, and understand the town and relationships.

The characters, especially main sleuth Ivy, were all well-written and detailed. I quickly got to “know” the series regulars, and could sense the depth of past experiences among them that must have been covered in earlier books. The relationships felt real even though I was new to the characters, and I’d love to go back and read earlier books to see how everyone got to this point. Even minor characters were given enough distinguishing features to make it easy to keep everyone straight, and make each person seem like a truly unique individual. I felt like I got to know the murder victim as well, as Ivy learned more about her over the course of the investigation.

And speaking of the murder investigation…it was excellent! Ivy approaches her amateur sleuthing in a methodical, logical way. She does her research, works out her suspect list, then starts interviewing people. I appreciated how she kept reviewing what she’d learned so far, and thinking about her suspects, their possible motives, and how her thoughts about who the guilty party was changed as she gradually learned more facts. A heroine who pro-actively investigates was a nice change of pace from some cozies, in which the characters mostly go about their daily lives and occasionally stumble across clues.

I suspected a couple of people at different times, and was proven wrong in the end. In retrospect, there were plenty of clues pointing to the actual culprit, and everything made perfect sense at the final reveal.

Another note: I appreciated that Ivy is best friends with the main police presence it town, instead of being either a love interest or an enemy. However, the friend was out of town, so the law-enforcement-enemy role was filled by the second-in-command. I look forward to reading Ivy’s next case, when Emmeline is back in charge!

All in all, I very much enjoyed this mystery. Five out of five chunks of yummy cheddar!

Book Review: Studying Scarlett the Grey by Kelle Z. Riley

“Studying Scarlett the Grey” is the 4th installment in the Undercover Cat mystery series. This book definitely meets the high standards set by the first three books! This time around, Bree goes undercover at a rental company for a seemingly simple assignment that quickly becomes much more serious.

The plotting of this story is very well done. The action moves along at a solid pace, with plenty of time for character moments along the way. All of the clues are there for the reader to discover along with Bree/Cat, and it was interesting trying to review everything as Bree does every so often, and try to figure out the culprit. I figured out part of it (fairly near the end), but the author still managed to surprise me with a couple of things!

In addition to the main mystery, there is some follow-up to previous storylines. I’ve read the first three books (I LOVE this series), but I think someone starting with this book would be able to follow along without any issues. Personally, I was happy to see the mentions of previous cases and events. There are also further developments in the Bree/James dynamic, and some hinting at Bree’s future with Sci-Spy.

A few things that make this book stand out in the cozy world:

  1. Bree herself…she’s smarter than the average cozy heroine, and isn’t afraid to use her brain to help solve cases.
  2. The whole Sci-Spy aspect….this gives the storyline more of an edge than the typical cozy. There’s a sense of higher stakes and more realistic danger, without crossing the line into graphic content.
  3. The secondary characters…there are several who appear just the right amount to add to the story without overwhelming the reader.
  4. The Bree/James/Matthew relationships….this time around, James and Matthew spent some time together, which I thought added a fresh touch to the romance storyline. I also enjoyed the time Bree and James spent alone, and learned a few handy self-defense and survival tips along the way.

All in all, five out of five chunks of ultra-sharp cheddar!

Book Review: The Sea is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt

I just finished reading “The Sea is Salt and So Am I”, and was completely STUNNED to learn that this is Ms. Hartt’s debut novel. I’m very much looking forward to following her career, and seeing what she comes up with next!

The author includes a trigger warning at the beginning, and I’ll do the same here: This book deals with teen depression, suicidal thoughts, and a suicide attempt. If these topics are triggers for you, you should probably look elsewhere for reading material.

That being said…the author handles these intense topics in a way that is simultaneously realistic, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Her main characters and their experiences are completely believable, and I had trouble putting the book down without seeing what happened to them next. I adored Tommy, liked Harlow, and was mostly mildly annoyed by Ellis, but all three of them captivated me. I am already mentally working out what comes next for them, as I can’t stand not knowing how their lives turn out after the end of this story.

The book is set in the fictional town of West Finch, Maine. The town is almost a separate character, and reading about it, the local problems, the wildlife, and the weather added another layer to this already incredibly nuanced novel.

Finally, I appreciated Ms. Hartt’s candor in the Author’s Note at the end. I will happily read anything else she writes, even if it’s just a to-do list. Seriously, readers of the world: Take note! This is an up-and-coming literary talent worth watching!

Five out of five super-sized chunks of the best sharp cheddar money can buy!