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Book Review: Three to Get Lei’d by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)

Book Review: Three to Get Lei'd by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)Summary:
A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV’s hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen-stabbed to death with Chef Kimo’s sashimi knife-the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella.

Review:
This book brought back all the strengths from the first book with the added delight of everyone at the Tiki Goddess Bar being featured on a reality tv show. As a (not-so-secret) lover of reality tv for the over-the-top ridiculousness and a lover of cozies for their delightful tongue-in-cheek puns and ability to not take themselves too seriously, the marriage of the two in this book was sheer delight.

A couple of scenes in particular struck me as the type of mad-cap tom-foolery seen in older 1920s romps, only with the added twist of reality tv cameras following the moves. I honestly would love to see a “The Office” style take on this series…a fake reality tv show version of the Tiki Godess Bar. That’d be a hoot! Anyway, one scene I really enjoyed involves the Hula Maidens in hula costume sneaking around on a golf course. Delightful.

I also like that the plot, although a bit predictable, weaves in a few different elements of various characters’ lives and stories. Em’s life moves forward, as does her uncle’s. Nothing is stagnant, just because murder is happening. I also thought grief and concern for loved ones’ safety were depicted well and realistically without slowing the plot down or removing the joy from the narrative.

All-in-all, a fun entry in the series that left me eager for the next one….and hoping the reality show will be back!

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
Mai Tai One On, review
Two to Mango, review

Book Review: Livin’ Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)

March 7, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Livin' Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)Summary:
It’s Halloween, and Pali Moon, Maui’s wedding planner, is happy to be back to planning a normal wedding after her adventures earlier in the year.  Even if she’s being sent out on Halloween night to Lahaina to look for a bridesmaid who’s gone missing.  Pali expects to find her drunk and lost, but what she finds instead is her ponytail in the backseat of her car.  Cut off.  Pali is very worried about the missing bridesmaid, but no one else–not the bride, groom, or even the police–seem to care.  When she starts getting threatening messages, Pali decides it’s up to her to figure out just how much danger the bridesmaid is in.

Review:
This second entry in this near cozy-style mystery series finds the reader again following a wedding Pali is planning gone criminal.

Perhaps some would expect every entry in a mystery series about a wedding planner to involve some wedding going haywire.  I suppose that’s fair, although personally I would prefer the source of the mystery to be a bit more shaken up.  Something like maybe Pali’s neighbor in the business district going missing, and Pali having to still manage to plan a big wedding while investigating the missing neighbor.  However, I can see how some readers would enjoy the predictability of “wedding gone awry” as a mystery plot.  In fact, it’s probably a mystery niche I was previously unaware of.  Potential readers should know, though, to expect the “wedding gone awry” plot from this series.

Even if readers are ok with the “wedding gone awry” idea being brought back in the second entry, how it goes awry could perhaps be executed a bit more uniquely.  In the first book, a groom is missing.  In the second book, a bridesmaid is missing.  The mystery would read quite differently if, for instance, the bridesmaid winds up dead at the bachelorette party, and Pali has to help clear the bride’s name in time for her wedding.  That at least wouldn’t be a missing person all over again.

That said, the reason behind the missing bridesmaid, and the plot that goes along with it is quite different from the first book.  Once the reader gets past the first 1/3 of the book or so, things definitely do start to develop differently.  The plot particularly surprised me at the end, again, in a way that seemed plausible and logical.  I just wish the beginning had been more unique.

Pali’s characterization continues along the same way as the first book.  If you liked her in the first, you’ll like her here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The romance plot is also quite similar to the first book.  Pali is still waffling between two men and doing a rather bad job of handling it in an adult-like manner.  Again, if you enjoyed the romance in the first book, you’ll enjoy it here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The setting is still as lovely as in the first book.  Hawaii and its culture are beautifully depicted.  It’s easy to feel swept away to Hawaii when reading this book.

Overall, this mystery has a plot that starts quite similar to the plot in the first book but that is saved by a drastically different ending and reasons behind the missing person.  The main character and romance continue to be a bit ho-hum, but if readers enjoyed them in the first book, they will enjoy them here.  Recommended primarily to those who greatly liked the first book in the series.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Maui Widow Waltz, review

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)

March 3, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)Summary:
Maui wedding planner Pali Moon wouldn’t normally accept a last-minute request to plan a wedding when the groom is lost at sea, but the client wants to pay cash, and she is in debt up to her ears.  Plus, the bride assures Pali that the groom’s best friend will stand in as his proxy if the groom hasn’t been found by the wedding date.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, when a body washes up on shore….it turns out, a lot.

Review:
This would be a cozy mystery if it offered any type of recipes or patterns in the back, as it is, think of it as a light-hearted mystery with very little blood and some steamy kissing scenes.  The story transports the reader to Hawaii with lovely described settings and keeps the reader there with an intriguing plot.

A wedding planner in Hawaii is just an interesting job to begin with.  Plus, Pali has a bit of mystery to her.  She admits from the very beginning that Pali isn’t her name, but the reader never finds out (in this entry in the series anyway) what her real name is.  Why is she keeping it a secret?  Plus, Pali’s friends (and enemies) are an interesting bunch.  Her Native best friend who also runs the general store and officiates weddings is a breath of fresh air to the story. Her gay roommate may feel a bit expected at this point, but the author keeps him from verging too far into stereotype and gives of a hint of the three dimensions he could have in future installments.  The bad guys may veer a bit toward caricature sometimes, but that lends the book part of its humor and lack of tension that is key to this type of mystery.

The mystery and plot consist of two main points of conflict.  First, Pali is at risk of losing her business.  Second, the missing groom and the bride’s family may not be precisely what they appear.  This lends some realness to the character.  She has more going on than this mystery that fell in her lap.  It also gives her a reason for accepting a client who has a clear iffy feeling about them.  That said, the will she or won’t she hold onto her business lacks some real tension, as it’s fairly clear that Pali will figure a way out of losing her business.  With the missing groom conflict, while we know Pali will probably be safe, since she’s the main character, the rest of the characters are basically up for grabs for danger.  This gives it just enough tension to stay interesting but not be stressful.  Similarly, this plot was more well-written, with some unexpected yet believable twists.  It also takes into consideration the local laws of Hawaii, so events stayed grounded in the real world.

The romance consists of two potential love interests.  I am always a bit turned off when a main character has two people interested in them.  It will never not feel a bit fake to me.  However, the two potential love interests are handled in a balanced and modern way.  Neither is the clear “right choice,” and readers could easily prefer one over the other while still liking the main character with either.

I also would like to mention that there is a good minor plot involving characters revealing that they are alcoholics who have been in recovery for a while.  It’s good to see people with a mental illness that they have worked on and are actively managing in a positive way.  I appreciate this diversity being included in this book.

Given all of these positives, why is it only an average read for me?  There was nothing unexpected for this type of mystery. It is very similar to others I have read in the genre.  Additionally, the main character can kind of rub me the wrong way sometimes.  How she handles her love interests is not as up-front as it should be.  It is also unclear as to how she managed to get herself into so much debt.  It seems she might just be bad at balancing books but all for taking favors from friends.  Similarly, she’s a white woman, albeit raised in Hawaii, but she goes by a Native name and never explains why, beyond the fact that she doesn’t like her own name.  Add to this the fact that the romance didn’t really work for me, and this is why I consider this a rather average read.  It may be more than average for you, if these factors I have named are not an issue for you.

Overall, this is a light-hearted mystery that transports the reader to the tropical island of Maui.  Some readers may be a bit turned off by the main character or the romance secondary plot.  Those who enjoy a non-tense mystery set in a tropical locale will most likely enjoy the read, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Lana’i of the Tiger by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #3)

Orane and yellow hues depict the lagoon of an island.Summary:
Maui wedding planner, Pali Moon, wound up as a key witness against a drug ring, and now she’s been whisked into witness protection, sent to the small boring island of Lana’i, and right at the holidays no less!  The feds seem to be taking their sweet time getting the case to court, and Pali is bored out of her mind, used to the hustle and bustle of wedding planning.  When a small local bed and breakfast advertises looking for temporary help while they go to the main island to have their baby, it seems like the ideal situation.  But when a famous guest’s fiancee turns up dead, Pali finds herself right in the thick of things again.

Review:
I picked this mystery up when I saw it on sale (for free) in the kindle store, in spite of it being midseries.  The punny title made me think it was probably a cozy, and I know those series are totally fine to read out of order.  I was right in that I never felt lost in the story due to starting mid-series, but I wasn’t right about it being a cozy.  Pun-filled title aside, this is an easy-going mystery, ideal for a beach read, but missing the appendixes of add-ons such as recipes or patterns found in cozy mysteries

Pali is a three-dimensional character who jumps off the page, and the supporting characters, while not necessarily three-dimensional, each have enough different quirks and personalities that they are memorable.  That said, Pali may be three-dimensional but she’s sure not likable.  One example, she kisses someone on Lana’i, and then later finds out that her boyfriend may be cheating on her and flips out.  But wasn’t she just cheating by kissing someone else?  The hypocrisy left a really sour taste in my mouth for Pali.  Characters don’t have to be likable, but in light-hearted mysteries where we’re supposed to be rooting for the non-professional PI, it really helps for them to be.

The mystery was fairly good.  I certainly didn’t figure it out until right before the reveal, and the ultimate solution made sense.  This is all I really look for in a mystery.

The setting was probably the best part.  Bassett evokes (what I can only imagine is) the real feel of Hawaii.  Each island visited has its own feel, Hawaiian culture is solidly represented with things like islanders calling all the elderly women “aunty” and locals being able to talk their way onto a ferry for free.  What kept me reading the book was my desire to spend time in Hawaii, combined with a mystery I was interested in the solution to.

Overall, the rich Hawaiian setting and actually mysterious mystery make this a fun beach read.  The main character is three-dimensional but could rub some readers the wrong way.  Those looking for a traditional cozy should be forewarned that this book doesn’t come with any traditional cozy extras.  Recommended to those looking for a light mystery set in Hawaii.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Maui Widow Waltz, review (published 5/3/15)
Livin’ Lahaina Loca, review (published 5/7/15)

 

Book Review: Two To Mango by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #2)

March 26, 2013 1 comment

Spilled tropical drink in front of a mango and a tiki head on a blue background.Summary:
Em Johnson, manager of the Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai, never intended to get involved in one murder investigation, let alone two.  But when the hunky fire dancing detective Roland Sharpe asks for her help looking into some suspicious deaths in a high-profile, competitive halau (hula group), she just can’t say no.  Before she knows it, she’s entering the geriatric Hula Maidens halau into the biggest hula competition on the island to help her get in where she can snoop.

Review:
I’ve dipped my toe in a few cozy series, but this is the first one that’s managed to call me back for a second helping.  They’re all entertaining in their own way, but this series is also unique and engaging enough to keep me coming back for more, and thankfully those unique elements stayed strong in the second entry.

Em is a good cozy mystery heroine.  She’s smart and willing to help but isn’t running amok destroying the police department’s days.  She only helps when asked and even then, she’s a bit reluctant to disrupt her life.  On the other hand, when she does help, she’s good at it.  She lends insight that it makes sense only she would have, such as being able to infiltrate the halau competition.  This lets both her and the inevitably hunky police detective she’s helping seem smart and efficient.  She also has that every woman quality that lets the reader insert herself into the story.

The setting is perfect escapism.  A Hawaiian seaside tiki bar that feels like Hawaii’s answer to Cheers.  If Cheers had a set of geriatric hula dancers who started “rehearsing” aka drinking before noon.  Not to mention an aging hippie who thinks he’s engaged to a dolphin.  The setting represents both the beauty of Hawaii and the diversity of Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture.  I certainly learned a few words of Hawaiian along the way in addition to thinking fondly of how nice it would be to live in a place with such tropical beauty.

The plot was multifaceted and engaging.  Every character really has their own life and they manage to intertwine just the right amount.  The murders (and attempted murders) happened at the right frequency and managed to be a surprise at least part of the time.  The murder weapons are creative and well-thought-out.  The plot is not predictable but it’s also not entirely off the wall.  I felt surprised but also to a certain level knew that I could have figured it out if I’d thought a bit more.  That’s the perfect amount of mystery in my book.

This would have been five stars, but there is one part of the book that I thought was in very poor taste at best.  This is not a plot spoiler, as it is not necessary to the mystery at all.  At one point, Little Estelle (the eldest of the Hula Maidens), climbs into a man’s car and basically throws herself at him.  If the genders were reversed, this would definitely be read as a creepy old man assaulting a pleasant young woman.  But since it’s an old woman it’s written for laughs.  I get it that Little Estelle is presented as a horny, senile old woman, but there’s a way to write that that doesn’t verge into sexual assault territory.  I just don’t find that sort of thing funny, and even though I get it that the intention was oh that silly old woman, it didn’t sit well to me.  If this was my first Landis book, I probably would have stopped reading.  I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, because the rest of the book is 1,000 times more humorous and creative than those few pages.  But I am disappointed that Landis chose to write Little Estelle that way.  Others might find it more humorous than I did.  I just don’t see such things as a laughing matter.

Most cozy books come with an arts and crafts do at home type project.  This series includes drink recipes.  I’m pleased to say that this book has even more drink recipes at the end than the first one, although I have yet to try mixing any myself.  They are creative and fun-looking, though, and let the reader feel a bit like the Tiki Goddess could really exist.

Overall, this is an engaging, humorous cozy mystery.  Readers of the first book will enjoy their return to the world of the Tiki Goddess.  I am anticipating the next entry in the series, although I do hope that Landis will improve the characterization of Little Estelle.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
Mai Tai One On, review

Book Review: Mai Tai One On by Jill Marie Landis (series, #1)

July 28, 2011 3 comments

Sunglasses and drinks on orange background.Summary:
Newly-divorced Em jumps at the chance to move to Kauai, Hawaii to assist her aging uncle in running his tiki bar.  She hires a young, punk-style waitress who seems to be running from bad choices, and she gets to know the aging hula dance group that performs for free (it’s not like anyone would willingly pay them).  Em is managing to increase business for the tiki bar and is starting to feel refreshed from her new life when the tiki bar’s neighbor shows up dead in their barbeque pit–with a machete slash through his skull.  The gorgeous fire knife spinning detective Roland sees Em, the waitress, and her Uncle Louie as the prime suspects, so clearly Em and the hula group must work together to find the real culprit.

Review:
This was my first foray into the fairly newish cozy mystery genre.  A cozy mystery is one involving something violent, but the violence is never particularly shown in a gruesome way, and the characters handle the situation in a humorous fashion.  It’s kind of like a modern version of Agatha Christie.  They also are really well-known for having puns in the titles.  (Another one that springs to mind is The Long Quiche Goodbye, which features a murder in a….wait for it….cheese shop).

So what about this particular cozy?  Well, the pun in the title is cute but doesn’t really have anything to do with the story.  I can’t quite figure out what, exactly, is supposedly being tied on or tied up or what have you.  No one is killed by ties.  Basically, the title is a bit witty, but confusing.

The humor is excellent.  I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while reading.  In fact, this is the strong point of the book.  Think of the wittiest, snarkiest person you know, then imagine that everyone around you has that same sense of humor.  It’s delightfully funny and relaxing.

The characterization ranges from really well-done to painfully one-dimensional or lacking in vividness.  For instance, all of the Hula Maidens are richly drawn elderly women who still have a lot of spunk and life left in them.  Yet the main character, Em, is so dull that I kept mixing her up with the waitress.  Similarly, some characters are so over-the-top as to be a bit offensive.  For instance, a new addition to the island are Fernando and his boyfriend Wally who are both quite possibly the most flamboyant characters I’ve ever seen in a novel.  Now, given the extremes of the Hula Maidens, that’s fine, but Wally is never given another element to his character.  Whereas it is later revealed that a lot of Fernando’s flamboyance is an act for his career, Wally is such a gay stereotype he even repeatedly faints and is never given any other realm of possibility besides fabulous gay boyfriend.  This is odd because the situation certainly arose to make him more compelling and well-rounded without diverting from the main storyline.  Although I appreciate the inclusion of gay characters in the book that the other characters simply accept, I do wish Landis had been a bit more careful with her characterization of them.

The mystery itself isn’t too mysterious.  Landis’s one attempt at misleading the reader into believing someone else is the murderer is so obvious as to be painful.  I actually cringed on her behalf when reading the passage.  The characters and humor are allowed to be obvious, but the mystery shouldn’t be.

I can give a pass to both of those issues considering that this is a cozy, and from what I’ve heard from friends who are fans, these sort of things are common in them.  The one big problem though is that this book sorely, direly needed better editing.  There were mistakes everywhere, which is baffling considering it comes from a publishing house (who supposedly are better because of the “professional” way they handle things….but that’s an issue for a different post).  There were multiple sentences with verbs in the wrong location or written twice.  Spelling errors and typos were present throughout.  This really distracted me from my enjoyment of the story, because the flow would be interrupted while I double-checked that I read the sentence correctly.  There is simply no excuse for such shoddy editing, although it is obviously the fault of the publishing house and editor, not the author.

These things said, though, looking at the book overall, it is still an enjoyable read.  Ignoring the editing issues, it is an enjoyable cozy, but not an amazing one.  The setting and rambunctious characters of the Hula Maidens hold much promise for future entries in the series.  Hopefully it will go uphill from here.  I recommend it to people who already know they are fans of cozies, but those who are uncertain should probably give it a pass.

3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Amazon

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