Series: Magnolia Steele Mystery
Author: Denise Grover Swank
Genre: Cozy Mystery | Thriller
This is my first Denise Grover series and I’m not really sure how to rate it. This post will contain a lot of spoilers but I will separate the reviews of each book! I have a lot of ranting to do for this series, but regardless, it was a really good and enjoyable series.
Book #1: Center Stage
Rating: 5 Stars
In Center Stage, the story focuses on Magnolia Steele’s return home after 10 years. We get introduced to the life she had before, the people in that community, and how they reacted to her return. The most intriguing part of the story was the reason why Magnolia left in the first place. Everyone thought she just ran off out of selfish reasons and therefore, she wasn’t treated kindly when she returned. However, as the story progresses, we realize that she went through something so horrific on the night of her graduation, that she blocked it out completely. The horror of that incident gave her panic attacks and nightmares for years. At the same time, the first night of Magnolia’s return, people start dying and she becomes a person on interest in those murders.
Center Stage was the best book in the entire series. The way it was written grips the readers and I assure you, you won’t be able to put it down. It was mysterious, smart, light in many scenes, but dark in the right places! The characters in this book were all likable to be honest. They had depth and they were mysterious. Each character kept you wondering what really drives them. Why are they doing this? or why they choose to behave the way they did? Can they really be trusted?
This series makes you wonder how much you truly know someone. Who is good and who is bad?
I finished this book was a big smile on my face.. not because it ended with cliffhanger, but because I knew there were 3 other books in the series and I couldn’t wait to buy them lol.
I wanted to know more about the incident from 10 years ago. I wanted details and I wanted some horror mixed with humor! It’s the best type of genre, isn’t it?
Book #2: Act Two
Rating: 4 Stars
Act Two wasn’t exactly what I had in mind! Like I said, I wanted to know more about the night Magnolia left, but this book didn’t focus on that at all. Act Two starts with Magnolia trying to uncover the real reason behind her father’s disappearance. More bodies start turning up the more she asks questions, and despite the constant warnings, Magnolia insists on finding the truth.
This book dragged a little bit! I was starting to question Magnolia’s ability to judge the seriousness of any situation, because I felt like she didn’t take things seriously enough. Her decision making was flawed which is something I liked. Characters aren’t supposed to be perfect and our Magnolia definitely wasn’t perfect. She was lost and confused. She didn’t know who trust, who was telling the truth, who was hiding what and so on.. I liked both Brady and Colt, and even though I’m pretty sure they have their own agenda, I’m sure they’re trustworthy. I didn’t like Balinda’s character very much, I’ve always felt that she’s a bit of fake but I’m not sure why.
Even though I loved this book, it still wasn’t as good as the first. I found myself wondering if Magnolia is really 28 years old, because sometimes she’d behave in a very childish manner. For instance, accusing every man who tried to help her of wanting get in her pants… and if they say ‘no,’ she’d get offended. This type of incident happened more than once in the past 2 books, that I found myself rolling my eyes every time.
Another thing that bothered me was the fact that when Magnolia realized her mother was dying of cancer, she actually had to think about staying with her. She was contemplating the idea of leaving back to New York…
That part really really irritated me. I know she decided to stay, but still.. she’s her mother. She shouldn’t have to think about it, you know what I mean?!
Book #3: Call Back
Rating: 3 Stars
Call Back starts off directly where Act Two left off. The first 3 books occur in the time span of 4 weeks, but it really doesn’t feel like it! The third book of this series is where everything starts getting very confusing. More murders are happening, Magnolia is still receiving creepy messages from the killer from 10 years ago. The more she digs into her father’s disappearance, the more she realizes he isn’t the man she thought he was. Everyone around Magnolia has their own agenda and their own secrets, and she truly doesn’t know who to trust anymore.
This book wasn’t my favorite, mostly because it dragged and dragged. There were a lot of parts that I could’ve skipped since they didn’t really add to the plot. I started disliking Magnolia’s character in this book, mainly because she hooked up with Brady, dumped him, then less than 24 hours realized she’s attracted to Colt.. all of this in 4 weeks… really?
I hate cheaters.. and I hated that about Magnolia’s character. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you suddenly become an unfeeling robot. It doesn’t mean you can’t find other men attractive! It just means you have enough respect for your partner not to act on those feelings.
Again, this book didn’t focus on the killer from 10 years ago. All we got was the usual creepy messages Magnolia received every now and then. This was unrealistic for me, because I couldn’t even understand why this killer would leave a witness to begin with. The most unrealistic part was the fact that all Magnolia was thinking about were her feelings for Brady and Colt, when she knew there was a killer out there. She was so terrified 10 years ago that she packed and ran off to New York, now she’s not so terrified of him anymore…
Anyway, after 3 books of waiting for Magnolia to finally get the courage to tell someone about what happened to her, I was disappointed. In this book, she finally tells her mother and Brady about that night. The disappointing thing was that that part was told in a very matter-of-fact way that it was as if you were reading a report rather than horrific traumatic story! It was so impersonal that I almost stopped reading the book back then.
This book was good, but simply not the best. Nonetheless, it was well written and even though it annoyed me, I still wasn’t satisfied until I finished it.
Book #4: Curtain Call
Rating: 2 Stars
The grand finale!
Curtain Call was different from the other 3 books. Mainly because the cover didn’t fit with the others! I’m serious! The first 3 books had those very classy elegant style covers, but this one had a very modern suspenseful kinda style!
Curtain Call was my least favorite in this series, because it was rushed. The characters suddenly felt very flat and shallow. What I’m trying to say is, no character is purely evil or purely good. Good characters have depth and they have more than one side. In this book, I didn’t see that. Magnolia’s father was portrayed in a very stereotypical way. For example, he’s a cheater, and a murder, and an asshole and obsessed with his daughter. Everything about his character was bad and that was unrealistic. In this book, I found myself skipping pages just to get to the ending.
It didn’t feel special to me anymore because Magnolia went around and started telling everyone her story. She just went from not trusting anyone, to trusting everyone.. it was all over the place and because there was so much that wasn’t covered in the 3rd book, the 4th book was overwhelming. There were a lot of things happening at the same time that I felt confused and somewhat bored.
The ending itself wasn’t very exciting. I expected more.
We ended up with a psycho father and a stupid killer.. I mean really?
The killer remained undiscovered for 20 years .. 20!! The police didn’t even know he existed, that’s how smart he was… then suddenly in the last chapter, the killer became so stupid and naive.. how is that even possible?
The killer is clearly a psychopath with an above average intelligence to remain unnoticed for all those years. However, somehow towards the end of the book, he becomes very panicky and is easily manipulated by others… He was portrayed in the last chapters as man child!
This series had so much potential and I feel disappointed. The most disappointing part was the character development. The characters were all so shallow, that I was able to predict everything they did..
I know I’m probably the odd one out here and a lot of people loved this book, but …
This book made the entire police department sound like a bunch of amateurs and portrayed Magnolia as some kind of genius for solving all those mysteries… though the way she trusted everyone and the way she handled a lot of situations wasn’t very smart at all.