Monday, April 16, 2018

review: lorna versus laura by cynthia hilston

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Set during World War II (although one would only know that from a few references made by the characters) in Cleveland, Lorna (who changed her name from Laura after the death of her parents at the hands of a drunk driver) lives a fairly solitary life as an elementary school teacher. With her parents deceased and her brother fighting in Europe, the only adult Lorna interacts with is her long-time best friend who encourages Lorna to get out more. Eventually Lorna connects with her neighbor, an attractive but aloof man with a secret.

Lorna Versus Laura is written passively, but it works well because of how passive Lorna is. The story, which focuses on Lorna's grief and struggle with her faith while also including a bit of a romance, is entertaining though it does include a few far-fetched plot points (like Lorna's "friendship" with a fellow teacher). There's an interesting development regarding the romance that seemed like it should've come earlier in the book so that Lorna could've had more of a struggle with that aspect of her life as well.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

review: after anna by lisa scottoline

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After being institutionalized for post-partum psychosis, Maggie's husband divorced her and took their infant daughter to France. Although Maggie tried to get custody of Anna upon regaining her health, her only contact was unanswered letters and a few glimpses on social media until one Easter when Maggie gets a phone call. It's an amazing setup for a plot, but After Anna is filled with implausibility. One small example is Noah renting a house immediately after Maggie tells him to leave their home. It's necessary for the plot, but doesn't make sense in reality. The book concludes with an unbelievable development that would never happen given the way the legal system works. There are other details that are strange too like the adults being obsessed with Anna using a Maine driver's license to drive in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, there's a lot of repetition with long courtroom testimony and the Before/After chapters going over the same details just from different perspectives.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Monday, April 9, 2018

review: lucky score by deborah coonts

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With a new NFL team coming to town, there's even more money than usual floating around Las Vegas in Lucky Score which finds the Babylon front and center in another murder mystery. Lucky knows the murder of a local politician is going to attract all the wrong kinds of attention. High-stakes illegal gambling and the opioid epidemic create even more complications, especially when the Babylon's trusted head of security accidentally touches some fentanyl (don't worry, he survives, but is unable to work during the course of the murder investigation).

Lucky Score begins at break-neck speed, but slows considerably as a number of interrelated subplots are woven together. It's still entertaining, but a little confusing at times as the reader (just like Lucky) isn't sure who to trust. The ninth novel of the series brings up all sorts of doubts for Lucky who struggles with the idea that a friend may not be who she thinks he is as well as some uncertainty about her love life. As such, Lucky isolates herself a bit in this book and some of the fun that comes with the secondary characters is lost as a result.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

review: the stranger in my home by adele parks

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After a pretty rough childhood, Alison is now living the good life with her partner Jeff and their teenage daughter who excels at academics and sports. But then comes the opening of the book: "The doorbell rings." A man named Tom drops the bombshell that his daughter and Alison's daughter were switched at birth. The story that unfolds is absolutely incredible with the two families trying to navigate the new dynamics, but then Adele Parks upends everything. For the baby switch isn't the only shock here. The Stranger in My Home eventually becomes a suspense-filled novel regarding the type of darkness a person can sink to and the powerful way someone can persevere.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

review: death by chocolate cherry cheesecake by sarah graves

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When Jake opens up The Chocolate Moose on a sunny summer morning, the last thing she expected to find was a man’s body. So begins a new cozy mystery series. Although Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is said to be the first book in a series, it is actually a continuation of another series from Sarah Graves. As a result, the reader is plunged into the life of bakery owner Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree with little introduction. There are a number of details Graves assumes the reader already knows (like the relationships between the characters) which causes a lingering feeling of something being missing.

The balance between baking and mystery was off here with there being too much emphasis on the large cheesecake order that Jake made all the larger by foolishly agreeing to bake even more for the 4th of July celebration despite not having the appropriate supplies or access to the bakery which has become a crime scene. The murder becomes an afterthought, though it is at least reasonably if not convolutedly explained. Knowing that this is actually a spinoff series makes the numerous subplots more reasonable but they are overwhelming for what is ostensibly the start of a new series.
1/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

review: death al fresco by leslie karst

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After her last murder mystery experience, Sally Solari is focusing on her restaurant and trying her hand at hand at painting (the restaurant is named for a painter). But Death al Fresco wouldn't be a Sally Solari mystery if she didn't happen upon a body. This time it's a man who was a regular at her father's restaurant. At first it appears Gino fell into the water and drowned because he was drunk--possibly overserved at Solari's. That's enough to prompt Sally to look into his death which she finds suspicious because she's sure Gino wasn't overserved. There's a good suspect list and enough going on to get the plot moving at a good pace, but the killer's motive is a bit weak once it's all revealed. And although Sally wisely handles the protestors (her father didn't listen when she warned against a Columbus Day celebration), she doesn't seem to have learned from her previous investigations how to have a soft touch with people she's trying to get information from.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.