Category: Books

Book Review: Edited Out by E.J. Copperman

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Edited Out” by E.J. Copperman provides a unique twist on the cozy mystery genre. The protagonist, Rachel Goldman, is a mystery author. The over-arching premise of the series is that a man claiming to be Duffy Madison, her main character, appears in her life. In addition to solving the current mystery in which she finds herself involved, Rachel must try to figure out who the man claiming to be a fictional character actually is, all while trying to finish writing her current book.

What makes this book so enjoyable is first person narrator Rachel. She tells the story, but also speaks directly to the reader, and she is hilarious! For example: “Women were not put on this planet to be buffers between men. It’s a side service we sometimes offer while we plot our takeover of the world. Go ahead. Assume I’m kidding.”

In addition to Duffy and Rachel, the minor characters are also well-drawn and full of potential. I look forward to the next installment in this series; I’m eager to see what mystery our main characters are confronted with next, to gather more clues to Duffy’s true identity, and to hopefully learn more about the backstories and personalities of Ben (police investigator) and Rachel’s father.

The story itself is well-paced and cleverly plotted. It is a bit reminiscent of old-school detective stories, as Duffy and Rachel interview witnesses, gradually gathering more and more information (and misinformation) about the case. I enjoyed this aspect of the book; in many cozies, the heroine spends most of the book going about her life, occasionally coming across some clues. In “Edited Out”, Rachel is actively (if reluctantly) trying to solve the mystery.

Another aspect of “Edited Out” that I found interesting was the information that Rachel shares about being a writer. During the course of the book, she talks about deadlines, editors, agents, writer’s block, and her writing process. This is never overwhelming, and the reader doesn’t feel like the book has suddenly transitioned from a mystery to “How To Be a Writer”. However, what Rachel shares about her career comes across as insightful and relevant.

Side note: Other reviewers have said that this book can be read as a stand-alone. I can’t honestly address this, as I had already read book 1, “Written Off“. That being said, I think that a reader could pick up “Edited Out” and figure out what was going on fairly quickly. However, I’d recommend starting with the first book, both for continuity of storyline and for the more detailed character development provided.

I highly recommend this book to fans of cozy mysteries. I also think that fans of traditional mysteries would enjoy this story, as it provides a significant amount of focus on trying to solve the crime. Anyone looking for something unique would also find “Edited Out” a worthwhile choice.

Book Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

“Bone Gap” by Laura Ruby is lots of things…a realistic tale of two brothers, a touching first-love story, a glimpse into an oddly warped magical world, and an interesting look into the problems associated with a very rare and unusual disability. Mostly, however, it’s a wonderfully readable story.

The basics: Finn O’Sullivan has a hard enough time navigating high school, his disability (face blindness, which IS a real thing), his relationship with his older brother, and his feelings for the girl he’s starting to fall for. Add to this the mysterious disappearance of his brother’s girlfriend and the fact that some odd and not logically explainable things start happening to him, and you have the basis for “Bone Gap”‘s plot.

What I liked the most: The major characters are well-drawn and realistic. Finn, his brother Sean, and his love interest Petey are all unique and defined individuals, and all ring true. Likewise, the relationships between Finn and others are believable. Other characters, both quirky and standard, round out the cast. The book also delightfully captures small-town life, and the unique aspects found therein.  

What I’d like to see more of: The story’s villain was intriguing, and just evil enough to make the reader truly despise him. I would have enjoyed reading a bit more of his back-story to find out what made him this way and give him a bit more depth. 

Overall: I enjoyed this story very much. Magical realism is a fairly new genre for me, and this book provides a perfect example of this style of writing. Highly recommended!

Book Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

“I Was Here” by Gayle Forman, the story of a young woman coping with the aftermath of her best friend’s suicide, sounds like it would be the most depressing book of the year. However, despite being based on a terrible tragedy, I did not find it hard to read. It was sad, of course, but was truly more about recovering from tragedy than focused on the tragedy itself.

Cody is asked to sort through her friend’s belongings after her suicide; in the process, she learns many things she didn’t know about Meg, and a decent bit about herself. The author has obviously done a great deal of research about her subject, and shares some horrifying truths about “Suicide Assistance” groups, as well as some useful information about depression. It’s important to note that the novel never comes across as “preachy” or overly focused on providing factual information. It reads like a well-paced, intriguing story.

My recommendation: Give this book a try as a good story about unraveling the mystery of a vibrant young woman’s life. Also read it to learn more about depression and suicide. Even if you’re blessed enough that these issues have not touched your life, it is always good to be informed. You might someday find yourself in a position to help someone else.

Book Review: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

On the surface, “Bee Season” by Myla Goldberg is the story of a young girl as she pursues her dream of winning the National Spelling Bee. In truth, it is much more. Although there is a decent bit about the spelling bee experience, the book spends equal time on Jewish mysticism, the Hare Krishna faith, familial relationships, marriage, and mental illness. Impressively, the author does a wonderful job with each of these subjects, and I learned quite a bit about other religions. Her treatment of one character’s mental illness is worthy of being included in college psychology courses.

That being said, I almost wish that the book had concentrated more on Eliza and her pursuit of spelling glory, along with her relationships with her family members and how they change during the course of the book. Even as I enjoyed learning about the other big topics included in the novel, it often felt like too much for one story. Perhaps you can tell that I’m a bit ambivalent regarding my opinion of this book….but I submit that the fact that I’m still  thinking about it, and trying to figure out how I felt about it, is a mark that “Bee Season” is a worthwhile book to read.

My recommendation: Read it, and expect to learn some things. Just don’t go in expecting the story to be primarily about the National Spelling Bee.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Cupcake Caper by Kelle Z. Riley

I am a regular reader of several cozy mystery series already, so there has to be something potentially special in evidence to encourage me to start a new one. “The Cupcake Caper” by Kelle Z. Riley (Book 1 in the Undercover Cat Series) seemed to fit the bill, and I have to say that I’m glad I took the chance on this debut mystery!

What was it about this book made me pick up a new cozy series, you ask? The answer: intelligence, both on the part of the author and the main character, Dr. Bree Watson. Both author and character are PhD scientists, as well as smart, witty, women. Bree is able to hold down a serious, demanding job, and apply her common sense and research capabilities to solving the murder that takes place at her lab. (On a side note, Ms. Riley’s website is wonderful as well; it’s clean, easy to read, and has substantially more interesting content than the typical author website.)

The story itself is interesting and well-paced, with plenty of action interspersed with scenes of Bree actually trying to solve the crime in question using her brain. Unlike many cozy heroines (who often simply go about their lives, ask a few questions here and there, and sometimes stumble over actual clues) Bree tackles her investigation head-on, with a great deal of thought, planning, and organization.

I would actually call “The Cupcake Caper” a cozy-mystery-hybrid. While it includes the key cozy attributes (a pet, a hint of romance, food/cooking, quirky friends), this book offers the reader more. It edges toward being a “standard” mystery in that much more attention is focused on solving the crime than in a typical cozy. The heroine’s job, and the fact that she holds a PhD, make her come across as a woman to be taken seriously. There is also more of a sense of real danger than what one typically encounters in a cozy. As a result I really enjoyed the book. I liked all the standard cozy tropes, but appreciated the more intense and serious nature of the mystery. The book ends with a hint of things to come for Bree, and I look forward to reading about her future adventures.

Five out of five blocks of delicious feta!

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Mini-Reviews

The Book of You by Claire Kendal

“The Book of You” by Claire Kendal tells the story of Clarissa, a young woman being stalked by an unstable colleague. This is a psychological thriller, made all the more terrifying by the incredible realism of the events portrayed and the author’s storytelling style. The heroine is realistically drawn; Clarissa is smart and practical, but not perfect or naive. She takes the reader through her story as she keeps detailed notes about the stalking as evidence to be used in seeking police help and protection. The fear and creepiness are very real, and not everyone is what they seem. There area  few graphic elements (after all, we are dealing with a psychopath), but nothing is thrown in gratuitously. “The Book of You” is the author’s very impressive debut novel, and she is definitely someone from whom we can expect great things in the future. 5 out of 5 slices of Swiss!

 

The Crispin Trilogy by Avi

This three-book series is geared to middle grade readers (I’d say 4th-7th graders, depending on maturity and reading level). I read the first book with my 5th grader, who was required to read historical fiction for a school assignment. As he went into the book with an “I-hate-historical-fiction” mentality inherited from an older sibling, I’d say his critique of “It was okay” was actually fairly high praise. I, on the other hand, loved the story, and eagerly finished off the remaining two books on my own. The series follows the adventures of Crispin, a boy who finds himself orphaned and wanted by the authorities through no fault of his own. Set (primarily) in England in the 1370s, the story provides a lot of information about the daily life of average people. Some historical references and events are included, but the books focus mainly on the everyday citizens who are largely left out of histories of the time period. The educational aspects never come across as heavy-handed, and you’ll be so caught up in the characters that you’ll likely not even realize that you’re learning something in the process. 5 out of 5 delicious bites of brie!

P.S. You absolutely MUST read in order:
Book 1: Crispin: The Cross of Lead
Book 2: Crispin: At the Edge of the World
Book 3: Crispin: The End of Time

 

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

If you’re looking for something new and different to get you out of a reading rut, then “Mr. Fox” by Helen Oyeyemi is the book for you! I can promise that this story is unlike anything you’ve read recently. Upfront, this is the story of author Mr. Fox, his wife Daphne, and his muse Mary. Interspersed throughout the novel are a series of short stories in which our characters immerse themselves in a most literal sense. While I do not claim to have fully understood the entire book, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend “Mr. Fox” to anyone looking for something unique, and to anyone who would like to become acquainted with an incredibly talented up-and-coming fiction author. 4.5 of of 5 wedges of sharp cheddar.

 

Boy Heaven by Laura Kasischke

I read “Boy Heaven” by Laura Kasischke because it was on a “recommended” list, and sounded intriguing. It turned out to be a perfectly good story, but did not live up to the hype. The book is billed as intriguing and suspenseful, with a surprise ending. The initial set-up was good, but there was not nearly enough content about the allegedly suspenseful events to build up to what was a not-particularly-surprising conclusion. There was no real psychological tension, and the core event around which the story revolves turned out to be more of a tragedy (and a crime) than anything else. It’s a perfectly acceptable story about some girls at cheerleading camp, but don’t head into this book expecting a mystery, thriller, or major life lesson. On the plus side, the main character is well-developed (we learn more about her as she shares anecdotes from her past with the reader), but her actions at the end of the book don’t track with what we’ve learned about her. What’s most disappointing is that this could have been a truly engaging psychological mystery/thriller. Everything was there, and ready for the plot to advance and become something fascinating. Instead, the story ended with a non-shocking revelation and a note of tragedy that was never fully embraced by the story’s participants. 2.5 out of 5 slices of American.

Book Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

“American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld is, first and foremost, an incredibly well-written book. The main character and first-person narrator, Alice Lindgren Blackwell, is intricately drawn, complex, and entirely believable. She rings so incredibly true that I turned to the author bio to see if it provided any insight into how a man could understand a woman’s mind so well. As it turns out, Curtis Sittenfeld is female, which makes a lot more sense.

The reader follows Alice’s life from her small-town teenage years through her marriage, along with her husband’s political career. The book is at its best when it focuses on Alice, her life, and her relationships with others. Her motivations, thoughts, and actions are shared as she progresses through her life. This book is well worth reading for Alice’s insights on marriage alone. Her relationship with Charlie Blackwell provides enough ideas and questions for an entire college “Psychology of Marriage” course.

Another intriguing facet of the book is Charlie’s career path. From an early foray into the political arena, to lollygagging in the family business, to baseball, and back to politics, his journey is fascinating to follow, especially through Alice’s eyes. I’d have liked to see the story split into two books, with the second focusing entirely on the Blackwells’ later political experiences. This one gave me enough to whet my appetite, but left me wanting more of that part of the story.

The author’s disclaimer calls the book “a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady.” She goes on to say that Alice, Charlie, his parents, and some of his political cohorts are recognizable (this is true), but that all other characters and incidents are fictitious. The disclaimer left me wondering exactly how much of the story that centered on real people was true. Obviously some details (names, locations) had been changed for purposes of the story, but I’m left unsure of whether or not the characterizations were meant to be accurate.

“American Wife” has left me eager to seek out authorized biographies of the real first lady and her husband in order to learn more. However, I think the book would have been stronger if a few more details had been changed and the story had been presented entirely as a work of fiction. As it stands, it shows Charlie and his family (and their real-life counterparts) in a somewhat negative light, and the reader is left wondering how much of the book was meant to be true, and how much was actually fiction.

As such, I give it 3.5 out of 5 slices of provolone. I’d have gone higher based on the quality of the writing, but lower based on the ambiguities of fact vs. fiction. All in all, despite the 3.5 slice rating, this is a worthwhile novel to read.