B O O K R E V I E W : A Deadly Affair by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s novels are always reliably entertaining and exquisitely plotted, but until this book, A Deadly Affair, I’d not read any of her short stories. This collection is built around the theme of love gone wrong.

While I do prefer the full-length mysteries which allow for more character development and elaborate puzzles, these were fun, quick reads featuring Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Mr. Quin, Parker Pyne, and Tommy and Tuppence.

My favorite story, “The Face of Helen,” concerned a beautiful woman Quin and Satterthwaite encounter at the opera who is involved in a love triangle. The mystery is so diabolically clever! I also quite enjoyed “The King of Clubs,” where only Poirot’s little gray cells point to the killer.

It was also interesting to read the short story “A Death on the Nile” which is similar to the Poirot book only in terms of the title as well as an excerpt from Christie’s autobiography about her early love affairs. I didn’t as much care for the two Tommy and Tuppence stories. Either they felt more dated than the others, more reliant on slang, or both.

You can grab this book and read the stories in any order. It’s a great choice if you are looking for a slump-buster or low-commitment mystery!

 

B O O K R E V I E W: The Hated Ones

The Hated Ones
Mike Fiorito
Bordighera Press
Publication Date: October 12, 2021

In this interconnected series of short stories, Mike Fiorito offers a raw, vivid bildungsroman set during the 1970s in Ravenswood Houses project in Queens. Vinny, a third generation Sicilian lives with his parents—a mother who drinks and father who gambles—and older brother, Virgil.

Although his family is poor, crime rampant, and drugs easy to come by, Vinny survives through cunning, a group of loyal friends, and the comfort of music. Vinny’s voice is so authentic, I had to keep reminding myself that the book was a novel, not a memoir.

The book’s title comes from the name of a gang, The Hated Ones: “To be a member you had to be resigned to your death. Death could come in any way. Getting stabbed in the face, shot, or pummeled by a brick to the head.” So resigned, the threat of danger failed to deter Vinny, his friends, or others in the neighborhood from making poor decisions, cruelly hurting loved ones and behaving short-sightedly. Even so, I found it impossible not to root for Vinny, and ended the book hopeful for him.

This is an under-appreciated gem, recommended for those who enjoy coming of age and NYC stories.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Mike Fiorito for including me on the tour and for a gifted copy of the book.

B O O K R E V I E W : Count Your Lucky Stars

Count Your Lucky Stars
Alexandria Bellefleur
Avon Books
Publication Date: February 1, 2022

All Margot Cooper’s friends are in relationships—Brendon and Annie, in fact, are weeks away from getting married. Of course, she’s thrilled for them, but she can’t help feeling left out when they pair off or go to couples yoga.

When the venue for Brendon and Annie’s wedding becomes unavailable at the last minute, they turn to Emerald City Events. Margot is shocked to learn that the event planner is Olivia Grant, her teenage best friend and first love. A week of bliss ended in heartbreak, and they haven’t seen each other in the ten years since. Despite the time and circumstances of their parting, an undeniable electric current passes between them.

Olivia just moved to Seattle after divorcing Brad, her high school boyfriend. When she has to vacate her apartment on short notice, Margot offers her a place to stay. Not only are they living together, they are spending a great deal of time together preparing for the upcoming wedding. Margot has sworn off serious relationships, and one with Olivia seems especially unwise given how much she was hurt the first time she let Olivia in. She can’t help her feelings, though—but will Olivia reciprocate or cast her aside again?

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, the final book in the Written in the Stars trilogy, had me laughing out loud (Cat the cat stole some notable scenes) and in tears as Margot and Olivia were thwarted by poor communication, underlying fears, and external obstacles, like the man-child Brad or well-meaning Brendon who tries to set Olivia up. The perspective shifts between Margot and Olivia, who are both sympathetic characters but trying to protect themselves. Like the most satisfying love stories, Margot and Olivia grow as individuals as their relationship develops. Characters from the previous books make cameos, and Bellefleur strikes the delicate balance of moving their stories forward while not diluting the primary narrative.

The very steamy, sapphic Count Your Lucky Stars was one of my favorite romance reads in February! Romance lovers will want to add this to their libraries.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Avon Books for including me on the book tour and providing a gifted copy of the book!

B O O K T O U R : Getting Clean with Stevie Green by Swan Huntley

Thank you to Over the River PR and Gallery Books for including me on the book tour for Getting Clean with Stevie Green by Swan Huntley (on sale 1.25.22) and for an advanced reading copy.

I enjoyed this quick, humorous, and ultimately moving read about Stevie Green who, since an “inciting incident” in high school showed the cracks in her outwardly perfect exterior has moved from city to city without a career, spending too much time drunk and sleeping with random men.

Now in her mid-thirties, Stevie returns to La Jolla, California, her hometown, to help her mother downsize. She was so good at organizing that she started her own decluttering business. She’s stopped drinking, employed her sister, Bonnie, an Instagram star and dog lover, and started seeing her high school boyfriend, Brad, a surfer and David Beckham lookalike, hoping to achieve the contentment that has so long eluded her.

However, the specter of Stevie’s past looms over her relationships. Her anger festers as she contemplates the person responsible for her initiating her downward spiral, and she ignores whispers that maker her question her sexuality. While she has nurtured a grudge against her ex-best friend Chris, she still craves receiving her text messages, and she is still reluctant to process her father’s death.

Although most of the book is told through Stevie’s point of view, interstitial chapters from the perspectives of Bonnie, Chris, Brad, and Kit (her mother) provide interesting perspective and show flaws in Stevie’s assumptions. An inevitable confrontation about ultimate truth of the “inciting incident” fuels the narrative and challenges Stevie to take the advice she gives clients—to get clean to find out who she really is. But the temptation to lean into a carefully constructed façade or to numb her feelings with alcohol makes it hard for her to make peace with the past—and present.

Although flawed, I enjoyed Stevie’s voice, both wry and insecure but determined to project confidence. Her relationship with Bonnie and their frequent bickering amused. Kit has interesting reflections about parenthood, plus she’s an artist who decided to draw a TV rather than draw one. And, there’s a dachshund named Weiner!

B O O K R E V I E W : Homicide and Halo-Halo

In Homicide and Halo-Halo, Book Two of the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen cozy mystery series (out Tuesday, 2/8), Lila Macapagal feels unsettled after the events of Book One, and drags her feet opening the Brew-ha Café with Adeena and Eileen, straining their friendship.

Moreover, she’s agreed to serve as a judge for the newly revived Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant which she once won. Returning to the pageant environment not only reminds her of her mother’s unreasonable beauty standards, it causes friction with her cousin and rival Bernadette who wanted the position.

Just as the pageant season begins, Rob Thompson, head judge and key benefactor, is murdered. Because of a heated exchange between Rob and Bernadette the night before Rob was killed, Bernadette rises as the prime suspect. Knowing Bernadette risked her job to help exonerate Lila, she feels a duty to set aside their past disagreements to help clear her cousin’s name—and to ensure they aren’t the next victims.

This has all of the ingredients that made Arsenic and Adobo such a fun read: great banter, meddling family, and tons of mouthwatering food descriptions (with recipes included)! A beauty pageant is always a fun setting for a mystery, and I liked how the organizers tried to modernize it and make it about more than appearance. Sana Williams, a fitness entrepreneur and pageant coach, was a great new character, while Rob’s widow Beth was quite nefarious and had a, to me, inscrutable hold on Jae, one leg of Lila’s love triangle.

Although this has a slightly more somber tone (explained by the author), readers who liked Book One will want to continue the series! I like it better than some other culinary cozy mysteries because of the interesting characters and inclusion of Filipino culture.

The drink in the picture is a Sangria Slushie, made from a recipe in the Book Club Kit!

Thanks so much to Berkley Publications, Get Red PR, and Let’s Talk Books Promo for including me on the book tour and for the gifted copy of the book. We had a great time discussing it!