Book Review: The Devil Pulls the Strings by J.W. Zarek

My main thought after finishing “The Devil Pulls the Strings” was….”That was a lot of FUN!” This is definitely an enjoyable read, has a little of everything…action, excitement, secret societies, fantasy, mythology, magical realism, romance. I enjoyed every moment of this story!

First of all, main character Boone Daniels is great. He is instantly likeable, and I found myself rooting for him from the very beginning of the book. What I found interesting was that the author found a way to get me very invested in Boone, and feeling like I knew him, even though fairly minimal time was spent on his backstory. Perhaps Mr. Zarek is a member of a secret society, and has magical powers of his own? This would not surprise me.

However, virtually everything else surprised me! This book provides non-stop action and plenty of unexpected characters, events, and reveals. Something new was always happening, and I was always discovering the next new idea right along with the characters.

I particularly enjoyed the way the writing style changed based on the scene. Some parts were written traditionally, but this alternated with a more staccato style that gave a sense of urgency to more intense scenes. I also appreciated the updated take on the Baba Yaga legend. I very much look forward to seeing what’s next for Boone and company in the next installment!

So. Much. Fun!

P.S. I will never think about hailing a cab the same way again!

P.P.S. I’d be happy to beta read the next book if the author wishes to contact me through this site.

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Breathe Underwater by Erin Bartels

I was initially drawn to this book because it is about an author who is having trouble writing her next book after the success of her first. I enjoyed that aspect of the story….one cause of writer’s block, the author’s attempts to move past it, and how she eventually found her voice again. However, there is SO MUCH more to the story.

I loved the way the author deftly interwove Kendra’s present-day story (writer’s block, revisiting her childhood retreat, working with her German translator) with the story of her childhood past in a lakefront cabin in Michigan. Both stories are beautifully told, and I awaited new developments in both timelines with equal anticipation.

There is so much attention to detail, both in plot and description, that I felt like I could actually see the world through Kendra’s eyes. Kendra herself is a likeable main character, and I appreciated the way the worked through her past with honesty and an open mind. I found myself truly invested in the outcome of her stories, and was pleased with the endings of both timelines.

One note: This story deals with sexual abuse. Nothing is graphic or gratuitous, and I felt that the topic was handled with sensitivity and integrity. However, if this is a trigger subject for you, please be advised that it is part of the story.

Definitely five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Fatal Fantasy by Jane Tesh

First off, after reading book 7 last year, I was a huge fan of this series when I started this book. Now, I’m even more crazy about it. (I have Book 1 waiting for me to find time to pick it up and start the earlier adventures of Randall, Camden, and crew.)

One thing that makes this series stand out for me is that there are multiple mysteries to solve. Main character David Randall is a private investigator, so it makes sense that he has more than one case going on at a time, and that things he learns while investigating one thing can lead to new mysteries. I love the way he goes about his sleuthing, taking a professional, methodical approach. He considers all the angles, talks to all the witnesses/suspects, and follows all the leads. He sometimes has help from his psychic best friend Camden, but this paranormal element is never used as a “cheap” way to solve a case. (By this, I mean that Camden doesn’t have a vision at just the right time that clearly and easily reveals the guilty party.) Instead, Camden’s gift sometimes guides David towards or away from a theory, but never spells out the answer directly.

Both David and Camden are interesting characters, and their genuine friendship and care for each other is heartwarming. Additional major characters are also intriguing, and this time around we learned more about Kary’s tragic backstory. This book also featured the Enforcettes, a group of costumed warriors who both help David and add to the mysteries he needs to solve. They added some delightful humor to the otherwise-serious murder investigation.

The book is mainly set at a local convention similar to ComiCon. I enjoyed reading about the various activities and events that were part of the convention, and was impressed by the number of fictional fandoms the author created, as well as the attention to detail given to each of them.

Of course, most of the mysteries are solved by the story’s end, with one interesting line of inquiry still open for further development.

I highly recommend this book (and series) to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, PI story, or quality fiction in general.

Five out of five chunks of perfect cheddar!

Book Review: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers by Heather Weidner

“Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers” is the first book in a new series, but doesn’t read like one. I mean that in the best possible way. Often, first books tend to spend a lot of time setting the scene and introducing the characters, with the murder almost taking a backseat to the series background. This book launches right in with the mystery element, and does an excellent job of introducing characters, relationships, and the location as part of the narrative.

I liked main character Jules. She is a sensible businesswoman who approaches the murder at her glampground in a logical, methodical way. I appreciated that she kept some of her focus on her business instead of devoting every waking minute to solving the mystery, as some cozy heroines tend to do. I also liked the way she worked with her tech-support friend and law enforcement instead of trying to do everything herself. Other characters, especially Roxanne, Jake, and Bijou (her terrier) were well-written, detailed, and added a lot to the story.

The mystery itself was also well-written. There were plenty of clues to follow, and I enjoyed watching Jules try to track down answers, both online and in person. I liked the way more was gradually revealed, both about the crime and the motive behind it. One thing that made this mystery stand out was that the main suspect was obvious early on. The real questions to be resolved were WHO exactly this person was, what motivated him, and how to actually apprehend him. I always enjoy it when a cozy offers me something a little different, and this one definitely hit the mark!

While the romance aspect was on the back-burner in this book, there is plenty of potential for an interesting love triangle to develop for Jules. I need to learn more to decide which man I’m rooting for. Roxanne’s budding romance is also intriguing, and could have some entertaining developments in future books.

I very much enjoyed the setting at a glamping-style campground near real-life Charlottesville, Virginia. I liked reading about the different themes of some of the refurbished campers, and the tiny houses. I look forward to seeing more featured in the next book in this series.

Five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

Book Review: A Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer

I started this series with the previous book (“Death Gone A-Rye”), and was hooked. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review this sixth installment in the series. I’m happy to report that this one did NOT disappoint! It was every bit as good as the previous one, and I’m sure the next book will follow suit. As someone who jumped in to the series with Book 6, I can report that both books work fine as stand-alones.

The characters, especially main sleuth Ivy, were all well-written and detailed. I enjoyed learning more about her (as well as other major characters) this time around, and gained a better appreciation of the depth of the various relationships. 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 also enjoyed meeting movie star Eliza, as Ivy got to know her over the course of the investigation. I hope she’ll become a regular feature in the series!

And speaking of the murder investigation…it was excellent! This time around, Ivy gets involved because the murder took place at party she was working, both as a Yeast of Eden employee and as a photographer. Ivy’s photography plays an important role in the investigation, and I enjoyed learning more about this aspect of her life.

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. I liked the way the two of them worked together, with Emmeline being no-nonsense and professional about her job, while still appreciating Ivy’s help and suggestions.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this mystery. Five out of five slices of perfect provolone!

Book Review: The Safecracker’s Secret by Sandra Bretting

“The Safecracker’s Secret” is a wonderful stand-alone book that focuses on the developing relationship between Gene, an elderly safecracker, and his college-aged protege Skye. Each individual is given a detailed personality and back story, and I felt that I grew to know and understand each of them as the story progressed. Watching their relationship grow from their first meeting in Gene’s lock shop through the end of the book was truly a pleasure. (Note: This is an age-appropriate mentor/mentee relationship, NOT a May-December romantic one.)

Gene’s safecracking skills are sometimes utilized by the local (Houston) police, and this time around he’s involved in a case involving drugs being sold to students at Skye’s college. Part of the story revolves around trying to solve this case, but the main focus of the book is on Skye and Gene. There is a good bit for the reader to think about in terms of family relationships, which could make for interesting book club discussions.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was that chapters are told from the perspectives of different characters. Gene and Skye (naturally) have the most chapters, but it was nice to hear from Reef (an employee at Gene’s shop) and police detective Boudreaux occasionally as well. This provided unique insights into different parts of the story. I loved how everything was woven together in the end.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a quality character/relationship-driven story with a touch of mystery.

Five out of five slices of yummy provolone!

Book Review: Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham

First off, I have to say that I absolutely adored this book! The year isn’t over yet, but I’m confident that this one will be making my Top 10 list. Yes, it’s that good.

I want to suggest that, if at all possible, please do yourself a favor and start reading at page 1, without reading any sort of summary or book description first. I think you’ll enjoy the story even more if you have no idea what’s coming. The story’s events were still a bit of a surprise, but I would have been full-on shocked and stunned if I hadn’t read the description first.

Now, on to why I loved “Winterset Hollow” so much:

  1. It’s different. I read a lot of books, so when I come across one that really strikes me as something I haven’t experienced before, I take notice. While this book has some familiar fantasy and magical realism elements, the direction and nature of the story itself is truly unique. When an author manages to surprise me like this, I’m always impressed.
  2. The actual story is very good. If you haven’t already read the description, I’ll provide the spoiler-free version: A young man and his friends visit the island home of the author of a favorite book. Many things happen during this visit, and they will surprise even if you have read a more detailed summary. They will THRILL you if you go in blind.
  3. The characters were very well-written. I felt like I really knew all of the major ones by the time the story ended. Eamon, the main character, is provided with an incredibly detailed psychological profile. Enough is shared about everyone else who matters to the plot that the reader understands each of them and their motivations. I felt so connected that I’d love to read a follow-up book (or even a short story) about what happened after the novel ended.
  4. The writing itself was impressive! I don’t just mean that the book was free of typos and grammatical errors. It was, but that is to be expected. I mean that the actual writing style was amazing. This book was beautifully written, with a lyrical quality evocative of Markus Zusak. Don’t worry…the writing style never bogs down or takes away from the flow of the story in any way. It’s just perfect!

Thank you, Jonathan Edward Durham, for writing such a fantastic book. This one will have a home in my permanent collection, and I eagerly await whatever you come up with next.

Five out of five chunks of my absolutely favorite sharp cheddar!

Book Review: The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf

I enjoyed everything about “The Sound of Violet” by Allen Wolf. At its most basic, it’s the story of an autistic young man searching for love and not realizing that the girl he met is actually a prostitute. In actuality it is so much more.

First, I appreciated the realistic portrayal of a high-functioning autistic person. The author shares Shawn’s daily life, his relationships with family members, the difficulties he faced at work, and the way he viewed the world. The other major character, Violet, was also portrayed with a great deal of depth and sensitivity. As the story progresses, the reader learns about how and why she ended up in her current situation, and comes to care for her more and more.

Second, the romance was sweet and believable. Shawn and Violet gradually spend more and more time together, and get to know each other. While Shawn is eager to find someone special and settle down, Violet has trouble trusting and believing anything good could happen to her. Through both dialog and actions, the author demonstrates how the relationship grows and strengthens.

A movie is being made from this story, and I enjoyed seeing the cast photos included at the end. I can’t wait to see how this book translates to the big screen!

Five out of five slices of delectable Swiss!

Book Review: A View Most Glorious by Regina Scott

“A View Most Glorious” by Regina Scott is the third book in the “American Wonders Collection” series. It is absolutely fine as a stand-alone. This installment tells the story of Cora, a young suffragette who decides to prove her independence, make a statement about the abilities of women, and avoid a marriage she doesn’t want by climbing Mt. Rainier.

This book is definitely character driven. Both main characters (Cora and her mountain guide Nathan) are incredibly well-written. The reader will feel like he/she is gradually getting to know real people as the story moves along and more and more about the characters’ pasts, families, and personalities are revealed. This is a historical romance, so it’s not surprising that feelings grow between the two. I found it interesting that two people from high society backgrounds, both looking for more out of life, managed to find each other. It was fascinating to watch their relationship develop.

Although the romance is lovely, it is only one part of what this book has to offer. The relationship unfolds as the couple undertakes a climb of Mt. Ranier together. The reader will learn a lot about the geography of that area, and what it was like to be undertake such a challenge without the benefit of modern equipment and safety gear. There is also plenty of information about daily life, religion, clothing, food, and the role of women during that time. Despite learning quite a bit, you will never be bored or feel like you’re sitting in a history lecture. All of this information is presented as part of the story, and is truly fascinating!

Since this is a Christian novel, I’ll address the role of Christianity in the story. Nathan is a devout Christian, and lives as he believes. His daily morning devotions provide an excellent example for Cora, as well as for the reader. It is always nice to read about a Christian person (Nathan) who lets his faith guide his actions without constantly announcing it and trying to force it onto others. I thought the religious aspect of this novel was handled perfectly.

5 out of 5 slices of thinly sliced, ultra-sharp Cheddar!