Book Review: Death In Florence

After her marriage fell apart, Diana St. James went on a year-long European trip to escape her ex-husband and the boring life she left behind. Unfortunately for her, her ex followed her to Florence… with the other woman in tow. Diana can’t seem to shake her past, even when she goes to the Shakespeare festival in Verona: without warning, the handsome, flirty Italian actor Marcello dies right in front of her, and Diana’s the prime suspect — again! With the help of her adult daughters, she sets out to unmask the killer, clear her name, and straighten out her messy love life.

Lovely! Death in Florence definitely works as a standalone. I haven’t read the first one, but at no point did I feel confused or like I was missing out. I enjoyed that the author slipped in tons of references and important plot points to the previous novel, A Murder in Paris, but stopped just short of giving away the entire story. Her next stop is Vienna, which I have no doubt will be full of surprises, too.

I enjoyed this travel-themed cozy, but there were two things that irked me. First, Diana heaped all the blame for her failed marriage on her ex’s too-young, too-cute, too-vapid fiance, leaving little for the ex-husband, and none for herself. Hmm. And I can’t help but wonder what’s up with the title! Almost the entire story takes place in Verona, not Florence.

Death in Florence is a fun, easy-reading travel cozy mystery with all the requisite red herrings, colorful characters, and gorgeous settings. Gourmet food, wine, villas, and live theater — it’s no wonder main character Diana falls in love with Italy!

Death In Florence by Blake Pierce was published March 30, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book reviews are moving!

Hello, book lovers! A bit of news.

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been crossposting. It’s not spam, I’m just moving all book reviews over to my new dedicated site, Jam-Packed Bookshelf!

Starting April 16th, all new book reviews will be published only on

I’ll continue crossposting until next Friday to give you lovely followers a chance to make the move. You can also enjoy my less than amazing graphic art skills on Instagram.

This page will remain active and book reviews will stay posted, but this site will be focused on my own writing. I know not everyone is interested in my budding career as a content writer, so I won’t take it personally if you unfollow.

So if you’d like to continue reading my mind-blowing book reviews, head on over to the Bookshelf.

See you there!

Book Review: The Root Witch

If you’re in a hurry and want a good scare, this is the creepypasta campfire tale for you.

80s TV journalist Sandra is determined to get her story on Halloween night. Reports of the Root Witch have been flying around and one by one, her crew goes missing. What she does find is a shocking video of the terror in the woods.

This found footage novella makes fantastic use of mixed media — faxes, diary entries, reports, and videos. There’s enough here to expand this 28-page piece into a full novel, but this bite-sized story is just right.

I love the idea of the clone forest being home to a human-hating supernatural presence. My horror-brain understands that concept, so I had no trouble getting invested in the legend of the Root Witch. And after that twisted ending, a reread made the story brand new again.

I did think maybe there was a bit too much focus on the journalism aspect. I was ready to get spooked, but the story gave a lot of details about how tv news is made. That’s cool and all, but I was more attracted to the “Urban Legend” part of the subtitle than “Caught On Tape.”

Half an hour cover to cover and I got chills when I heard the leaves rustling outside. I’d call that a success! Very enjoyable to this Blair Witch fan.

The Root Witch by Debra Castaneda was published March 20, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this title. I am leaving this feedback voluntarily.

Book Review: The Donut Trap

I just loved this. All of it. Romance, complicated family relationships, food, donut jokes, and the intimate representation of a 1st generation Asian American family. Overbearing aunties, pushy besties, social media, and innovative pastry trends. The Donut Trap has it all!

Jasmine Tran works more than full time at her parents’ donut shop, even as she feels the pressure to get a job and a husband. Her ever-supportive best friend Linh has found the perfect guy, and he just so happens to be Jasmine’s college crush, Window Guy. Simultaneously over- and under-employed while she tries to find herself, Jasmine juggles dating, donuts, and family dynamics in this showstopping debut.

Tieu expertly explores diasporic family dynamics in a high-pressure setting. Jasmine’s parents struggle with balancing her integral position at the donut shop and giving her space to move forward with her life. The representation of Jasmine, who never seemed to fit in anywhere, is insightful. She and Window Guy (real name Alex Lai) have much in common this way, but very different life experiences. The relationship between Jasmine and her work-hard parents is complex while she strives to prove herself, find herself, all while dragging the donut shop into the 21st century with Instagram-worthy offerings.

I am VERY picky about my romance, but this I loved. I caught myself grinning throughout. Sweet, not saccharine. Jas is adorkable without being annoying. Alex is smoking hot without being hollow. Their romance is funny, bumpy, and nuanced, making their budding love story one well worth reading.

A full cast of strong characters carry this charming story to the next level making The Donut Trap my favorite book of the year so far! 🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu is expected to be published November 2nd, 2021.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Home Before Dark

Maggie Holt doesn’t remember living in a haunted house. When she inherits Baneberry Hall, a creaky old house haunted by her father’s tell-all novel, she battles her memories, her beliefs, and a town full of people who hate her family’s guts. She searches for the truth but finds much, much more.

The word that best describes Home Before Dark is “creepy.” The house is big and creepy, the memories are creepy, her father’s novel is creepy, the house’s history is creepy, and Maggie’s blind spots are creepy as hell. Is it terrifying? No. Does it make you think and work to puzzle it all together? Yep. I couldn’t help but think of The Haunting of Hill House, but I hesitate to make a comparison.

The book-within-a-book aspect of this story was really well done and broke in the right places with the right scenes. One is present tense and one is past, so there’s no way to get confused about what happens when. I was afraid one story would ruin the other and in the end, that’s kind of what happened. I don’t mind a good twist, but I don’t like to feel cheated. This one is right on the fence. Either way, it was a lot of fun to read and knowing the end, I’d love to read it again.

I listened to the audiobook version of Home Before Dark and enjoyed both narrators. They were well-matched and fit their characters well. Their pacing is good and their voice acting is spot on, so no complaints there. I do not understand the title of this book, but the cover art is great.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager is a delicious haunted house story that twists, turns, then twists again. Suspense writers, take note: this is how you pace.

Book Review: My Heart Is a Chainsaw

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a love letter. It’s intense and intimate. Familiar and shocking at the same time. You can practically see the grainy, underexposed horror lighting throughout.

This book is not a casual read. The author’s style is challenging and at first I wasn’t sure I liked that so much happens between the lines. This level of lyrical, skeletal prose is rare in horror, but outrageously successful here.

What makes this piece beautiful is the distance. Yes, it’s about slashers and everything you already know about them, but that’s all through the safety of the tv screen. You, the reader, get to know Jade, but the angsty teen stubbornly remains at arm’s length. The glacial pacing makes this a study in anticipation. After the shocking prologue, the plot pumps the brakes, comes to a rolling stop, then guns it. Like Jade, you think you’re more than prepared, but when it finally comes, omg no no no you’re not ready.

This is a compulsive, memorable read that I would recommend to select readers, but not everybody. If you’re passionate about horror movies – excuse me, SLASHER movies – you’ll thoroughly enjoy this. Some parts were too specialized, too in-crowd for me, and if I were even a fraction as passionate as the main character, this book would turn my world upside down. Still, this is one story that will stick with me for many reasons.

It’s not often I turn the last page and think, “Damn, now that is a story,” My Heart Is a Chainsaw is art unlike anything I have ever read before.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is expected to be published August 31, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters

Satoshi is back in Japan after living in the US and he feels like a total outcast. He’s been gone a long time, he’s way too good in his English class, and he worries that his disabled sister and confused grandfather will attract unwanted attention. On top of it all, there’s only one spot left on the baseball team! Can he juggle his school, sports, and home life while still fitting in with his friends?

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters paints a wonderful portrait of school-age awkwardness and the desire to fit in. This story takes place entirely in Japan, where the cultural differences between Japanese and American school systems are highlighted, especially with student-teacher relations. The culture shock goes both ways for Satoshi and his friends, making this a poignant read for children who feel like they just don’t fit in anywhere.

I listened to this with my 9 year old who absolutely loved it! He did struggle to keep the names straight, but the story is fast-paced, exciting, and kid-friendly without being babyish. The story trusts that the middle-grade readers will be able to handle heavy subjects like dementia right along with things like the desire to get good grades. It struck a great balance, and we both looked forward to each listening session.

We did find that the sound effects were intrusive at times. It was a great addition, especially at the baseball games, but some sounds went on way too long and became distracting (like when Satoshi gets a haircut). We had mixed feelings about the ending, too, but overall, we loved it!

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters is a refreshing middle-grade story about fitting in, friendship — and of course baseball! It’s a gem of a story that’s perfect for any sports-loving kid.

CW: Parents, there is some mild language and 2 plot-pertinent uses of the R-word.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Other People’s Children

Gail is desperate to become a mother. After years of trying to adopt, she and her husband Jon finally meet Carli, a rudderless 18 year old with a baby bump and an abusive mother. Ready to be parents at long last, Carli gives birth and Gail and Jon take home their new baby Maya. But Carli’s mother pressures her to reclaim the newborn before the adoption finalizes. Then, chaos. Maya becomes the eye of a hurricane of jealousy, pain, and desperate love.

Other People’s Children wastes no time getting to the real story. The reader does not have to wait long for the baby to arrive and then when she does, the story kicks into high gear. What could have become a drawn-out tale of courtroom tragedy becomes a breakneck thriller as the three mothers demand the family they believe is rightfully theirs: Maya. 

Every mother, from Gail to Carli all the way to Gail’s critical mother and Jon’s Aunt Carol, embodies maternal love — they just have different ways of showing it. I loved that Gail was all show and no substance while Carli was the picture of emotional maturity in the face of adversity. I do wish we could have met Marla before she and Jon had their waiting-room confrontation; I’m sure she could have been as dimensional as the other mother. Even Paige, the social worker, offers a nuanced perspective of what it means to be a parent.

There is plenty of foreshadowing for the story ahead, which makes it fun to watch the story play out in its entirety later on. Frankly, I did not expect this book about the meaning of motherhood to be such a page-turner. Other People’s Children started as a family drama, then turned on a dime into a heart-racing thriller. This debut novel is a whirlwind, to say the least.

CW: abuse

Other People’s Children by R. J. Hoffmann is expected to be published April 6, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy books lately and needed a break. When I spied Gudetama: Mindfulness For the Lazy on NetGalley, I snapped it up. It didn’t change my life, but it did make a nice palate cleanser.

Gudetama is adorable. This thicc little egg yolk (?) wants to do nothing more than nap, but his over-enthusiastic friend (?) insists that today is the day to learn about mindfulness. The odd couple floats around town learning and teaching others about self-love, self-respect, and staying in the moment.

Mindfulness For the Lazy discusses cutting out negative influences, staying organized, and empathy. I appreciated that not all of the characters were able to accomplish this! It’s hard sometimes, and it’s important to recognize that. 

This little graphic novel is 0% esoteric. It’s just a speedy PSA about not being a butt. 

Honestly, I thought this graphic novel would be more about mindfulness. There’s a lot about self-care and self-regulating, not so much about how to actually be in the moment. And I can’t quite pin down who the target audience would be. It’s presented in a way that would be easily digestible and even eye-opening for children, but features office drones under mountains of paperwork and adults forgetting to pick up each other from the airport. I don’t think this book was for me, but it was fun.

There are some rays of sunshine in here. From casual non-binary pronoun usage to a character who dunked on someone while using the wrong “your,” it’s the asides that make this story shine. I especially enjoyed the flowchart of how to deal with unpleasant people on social media.

If I were already a fan of Gudetama (and I can imagine it’s very easy to become one!) I’d probably enjoy this little guide more. Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy is perfect for people in a hurry and those who like humor with their self-help.

Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark is expected to be published April 6,2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Book Review: Killer Triggers

Well my, my, my.

As a fan of Joe Kenda’s television show on Investigation Discovery, I leapt at the chance to listen to him read his memoirs. I was not disappointed.

In Killer Triggers, retired Lieutenant Joe Kenda recalls several of his most memorable cases while working as a homicide detective in Colorado Springs. He starts each story with the “trigger” for the murder and retells the entire experience of solving the crime — from the time he gets the call until after the killer is locked safely behind bars.

But not every story is like an episode of Homicide Hunter. In this format, Kenda is able to go into much more detail about the investigation, techniques used, his feelings about the case, and even a few amusing asides. There’s a long passage extolling the skills of police dogs and an amusing side story about the time one of them got loose. He later goes in depth about the emotional toll being a homicide detective took on his health and family life, making this a well-balanced true crime memoir.

These stories are true crime, but there is time to talk about the effect of the murders on the surviving family members. This author has no trouble reminding the reader that these are real people who have endured real horrors and he treads the line between sensationalism and compassion.

However, I did find that since Kenda explores his opinions and feelings during each case, his generational bias is showing. He flirts with outdated morals and societal norms which rub this 21st-century reader the wrong way.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure it’s a great title on paper, but as a fan of Homicide Hunter, the narration made it that much better. I don’t normally mention profanity in my reviews, but other fans may be startled to hear their favorite detective drop an f-bomb.

I highly recommend the audiobook version of Killer Triggers to any fan of the true crime genre, especially those who recognize the author from his television show. Joe Kenda’s style is direct, deadpan, opinionated, and dripping with gravitas.

Killer Triggers: Murder Comes Down to Sex, Drugs, or Money by Joe Kenda is expected to be published March 9, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.