Good Potential, but Needs a Few Tweaks--3.5 Stars,
This review is from: Cooking the Books: A Sloane Templeton Mystery (Paperback)Sloane Templeton's life isn't going exactly as she had planned. Instead of working in a cyber crimes unit, she's running her recently deceased mom's bookstore. Sloane is not exactly interested in the book business, but can't bring herself to sell the bookstore, which is also her home. Even though Sloane doesn't find books exciting, her life sure is. While attempting to figure out the book business, two arrogant, hostile archeologists are vying for a rare book, a wealthy development organization is aggressively pushing Sloane to sell the bookstore, her abusive ex-boyfriend is stalking her, her eccentric Aunt Varlene is constantly using Sloane as a guinea pig for her barely edible recipes, and there's the small matter of someone threatening her life. Needless to say, Sloane's life is in an upheaval and the one stable person, her mom, is no longer there to help her through. In an oddly entertaining novel, Cooking the Books starts off rough, but eventually turns into a nice easy read.
As I read the opening chapters of this book, I felt like I was watching a play. The scenes felt a bit staged and the characters seemed to overact by playing to the audience. Though the book kept moving and had an up tempo, it felt chaotic and I found it very difficult to get into the rhythm. A lot was going on, but not a lot of plot progression. Eventually though the story does smooth out and while it still remains a very visual book, the scenes begin to feel less forced and more natural.
By the time the book ended, I found the humor in this book to be quite enjoyable. However, the opening humor wasn't particularly funny to me. This is a personal preference, but I don't really care for humor that comes at other's expense, even if the other person doesn't know the comments are being thought about them. Additionally, self-deprecating humor only works for so long before it begins to feel like low self-esteem. Fortunately, by the time the story ended, both of these issues had been corrected and I found Cooking the Books to be quite humorous.
The strength of this novel is in the lead character, Sloane. Her realistic, internal thoughts were incredibly easy to relate too. Her personality remained consistent, but her character evolved with the story. Calhoun was able to both lighten and darken the mood with Sloane as well as provide a conduit for the spiritual themes presented. However, I didn't completely buy her computer skills. There's a scene early on that somewhat blew her credibility. I can't imagine that some with her level of computer knowledge would have opened an obviously harmful email.
As a debut novelist, Calhoun does a fairly good job with presenting the mystery. It wasn't too hard to figure out the plot to kill Sloane, but with just a couple of tweaks, it could have been very difficult mystery to unravel. Some adjustments to the pacing would have been good too. I was about half way in before I felt like the main plot (the threat to Sloane's life) became a factor.
Overall Cooking the Books is an enjoyable read. It has its rough spots, but that's not unusual at all for a debut novel. With some minor changes to the foreshadowing and a bit better pacing this book would easily have changed from good to excellent. With one major plot left pretty much unresolved, there's definitely room for a sequel and I look forward to reading it.
Review copy provided courtesy of Abingdon Press