Reviews: Grounds for Murder, and The Jake Ryan Complex

New feature here on the blog where I do short reviews of what I’ve been reading or watching or listening to. Today I’m going to talk about two books I just finished reading:

Grounds for Murder (A Coffee Lovers Murder Mystery Book 1) by Tara Lush

Now this was a much-better book and one I will recommend even if you have to pay for it (and it’s on sale at Amazon for $1.99, link here).

As you can see, this is a murder mystery set in a fictional South Florida beach down called Devil’s Beach. The main character and amateur sleuth here is Lana Lewis, former investigative reporter for a newspaper in Miami and now barista and manager of her family’s coffee house in her hometown. The book starts with the murder of Lana’s hunky Italian barista Fabrizo. All the evidence point to suicide as it looked like he took a fatal swan dive off the roof of the building he lived and worked in.

I though the premise of Lana being a former investigative reporter was intriguing and it works very well here. As an investigative reporter (she got canned from her job in Miami which is why she’s back in her hometown), Lana would know how to ask questions and find information. She’s very smart in this respect and I really like that. She’s also dealing the fallout of her rather messy divorce (her television reporter-douchebag ex shows up but she sends him on his way) and she’s kind of sort of licking her wounds from her divorce and the loss of her job.

With help from her new barista Erica, Lana works to solve Fab’s murder by working through an eclectic cast of characters and potential suspects, dealing with preparing for a big coffeemaking competition with Erica, and also her growing attraction to the island’s very hot police chief. So there are colorful characters, goofiness, laugh-out lines and observations, and a well-crafted mystery here.

This was a well-crafted book especially with the character of Lana. She’s about thirty years old and has knocked on her ass pretty good. But she doesn’t do a lot of sad-and-sorry for herself and also her conflict about her attraction to the chief of police is solid (she’s hesitant to act on that because he’s ten years older than her like her ex was so she’s not wanting to get hooked up with an older guy hoping he doesn’t turn out to be a douchebag like her ex).

The mystery was clever because not only did Fab-the-dead-barista get around, he was involved with some shady characters on the island who had motive to hate his guts and possibly want him dead. This is a book I will highly recommend and I am definitely going to read the next book in the series (though it’s not scheduled for release until December of this year).

The Jake Ryan Complex by Bethany Crandall

This is a book categorized on Amazon as ‘Single Woman Fiction’ and ‘Friendship Fiction’. I would call it contemporary romance as that was the main plot but it was written in the first-person of the main character, Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Huntress. Great name for a character but to me, a little of out of place in a straight contemporary.

The title comes from the movie ‘Sixteen Candles’, which I grew up watching and loving though I can now admit to its faults (that’s another blog entry for another time). Jake Ryan was the hero of that movie and made many a teenage girl’s heart flutter back in the day. He wasn’t a bad guy but more like the tall, dark, and handsome teenage hero with the angst. The story is of how the main character in this book held up all the guys she dated to this standard set by a fictional character. An interesting premise but the execution left a lot to be desired.

I will freely admit here I’m not fond of first-person narration as I feel it is a bit limiting in terms of being able to get into individual characters. In this case, the book was only written from the point-of-view of the lead female character, Mac. She meets a guy who is like an older version of the fictional Jake Ryan (multiple comparisons are pointed out throughout the book to this) and begins to fall for him.

The main conflict with Mac is that she has a demanding mother who she has decided to lie to in order not to set boundaries and deal with her like an adult (Mac is thirty-nine by the way in the book so if she was ten years younger I could this as a possibility but not for someone pushing forty). Mac’s invented this fake boyfriend and now that her mom is coming to town for Mac’s younger sister’s wedding preparations Mac is scrambling to either make this lie a reality while trying to date the real-life version of Jake Ryan she’s found.

It all works out though I could see most of the plot twists coming a mile off. The last third of the book also felt rushed and the big issues not fully addressed. Three out of five stars and not something I’d recommend unless it a freebie.