Book Review: Mission Impawsible by Krista Davis

mission-impawsibleThere are so many cozy mystery series being published today that I have chosen a select few to follow. The “Paws & Claws” series by Krista Davis is one of my absolute favorites, and I highly recommend it to all fans of the genre. Although each title can be read as a standalone, I suggest beginning with Book 1, “Murder, She Barked”, if you are new to the series.

“Mission Impawsible” is the fourth installment in this delightful series set in fictitious Wagtail, Virginia, at an inn that caters to pet owners and their furry friends. This time around, main character Holly has to solve a murder in the midst of a pet-based matchmaking event hosted by the Sugar Maple Inn. Because of this event, the town is full of suspects, potential love interests, and adorable animals, making Holly’s search for the killer even more challenging. I happily give this book five out of five thick, savory slices of Bergenost!

What makes this book (and series) so special, you may ask? In  my opinion, the single most important element of any mystery is the development of the crime-related plot. It needs to make sense, be intricate enough to not have an obvious solution, but also provide enough clues that the reader can figure it out about the same time as the heroine. “Mission Impawsible” does this extremely well. There are plenty of potential suspects with plausible motivations, plenty of clues (and red herrings) to unravel, and the reveal at the end is logical based on everything that has happened before. I was able to correctly guess the identity of the killer, but not early enough in the book to make the rest of it boring.

Characters are another key aspect of any cozy mystery, and the protagonist of this series, Holly Miller, is ideal. She is likable and funny without being over the top, and is portrayed as intelligent and competent in her job. I especially like the fact that she comes across as a real person, with believable relationship issues and a genuine thankfulness that she lives in a place in which her meals are provided. I tend to be a bit annoyed by those “perfect” characters who are able to whip up a dinner spread for six unexpected guests with only the three random items they find in the fridge. I really appreciate that Holly isn’t the perfect chef and hostess, but the kind of real, everyday woman I can identify with. The other characters (both human and animal) are also well-drawn and entertaining, adding just the right amount of fun and quirkiness to the mix.

Many cozies include recipes at the end of the book; this one is no exception. What makes this section above average is the fact that recipes from the story for both people AND animals are featured. As a bonus, they tend to be reasonable enough (in terms of ingredients and cooking expertise required) that the average person could prepare them successfully.

You can learn more about Krista and her books on her website. To really get to know her, follow her on Facebook. You’ll enjoy author chats, giveaways, and more. If you’re really lucky, your pet might be chosen as an official Wagtail Ambassador and receive a swanky bandanna like the one Musket is sporting!

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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 Quote of the Day

“What I believe is that when it comes to big things in life, there are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason. You’re here for a reason–and it’s not to fail and die.”

–Emma Bloom to Jacob Portman, “Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs (Of course, this quote is situational in the story, but I think it applies to life in general.)

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.