Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: The Chocolate Jewel Case by JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting, real characters
Cons: Plot takes a while to get focused
The Bottom Line:
Plot is a bit slow
But the characters are great
Overall fun book

Almost a Jewel

Lee McKinney Woodyard is back for The Chocolate Jewel Case, her seventh Chocoholic Mystery. Ever since Lee moved to Warner Pier, Michigan, she's found that small town life isn't as quiet as she thought it would be. It doesn't matter the season, this resort town is never dull. Mystery and danger just seem to find her. Lee moved here after her divorce to work in her Aunt Nettie's gourmet chocolate shop, TenHuis Chocolade. Along the way, she met Joe Woodyard, and the two have just married.

Lee and Joe have a house full of guests. Just what every newlywed dreams of, right? First, there are the two teens working at TenHuis Chocolade. One is local resident Tracy, but the other is Lee's much younger step-sister Brenda. The two don't really know each other well, so it's an exploratory summer for them. Then there are Joe's two mysterious friends. Darrell is an ex-con who was innocent of the murder he was sent away for. Silent and unemployed, he spends most of his time in his camper. Peter, on the other hand, is a birdwatcher who makes Lee feel very uncomfortable. Rounding out the guests is Joe's aunt. Gina is going through another divorce and is hiding out from her ex-husband.

To make things even more fun, Warner Pier is having an unusual early summer heat wave. The old house Joe and Lee live in has no air conditioning and only one bathroom.

But housing issues aren't the only thing on Lee's mind. There has been a string of robberies in town recently. Since it's the start of the summer season, many of the summer people are returning to find their cabins have been robbed. Jewels and antiques are the prime targets.

Lee's been pretty busy making sure her guests are provided for and running TenHuis Chocolade since Aunt Nettie is in Europe on her own honeymoon. But then fate takes over and Lee is forced to care about the robberies. And there's the strange man who shows up claiming to be Joe's dad, who died 30 years ago. And the body found floating in the lake. What is going on?

The books in this series have always been light and fun, but this book turns out to be too light. The plot seems to be meandering all over the place. While it does come together in the final third, the lack of focus early on hurt the book. And even with the large cast of new characters, I spotted the villain early.

The new characters both help and hurt the book. It was nice to get some new blood into the series, even if they most likely won't be around much in the future. They are introduced slowly enough that I had no trouble remember who they all were. And, even though we'd never met them before, they were very well developed characters. On the other hand, many of the supporting characters from earlier books are missing. Aunt Nettie rates only several mentions this time around. Ironically, she fairs better then some of the other series regulars who don't even show up. While the story didn't need them, I missed hearing about them.

The series has always featured chocolate chats, some chocolate trivia scattered throughout the book. This go around, they spotlight a few non-fiction books on chocolate. These books sound tempting. Still, this is one "feature" that I wouldn't miss if they took them out.

As always, the first person narration keeps the story moving swiftly. And for those keeping track, Lee's "tongue tangles" are slightly better then the last entry but still worse then some of the earlier ones.

The Chocolate Jewel Case is a fast, fun read that I enjoyed, but other entries in the series have been better.

If you are interested in reading more about Lee, here are the Chocoholic Mysteries in order.

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