My read-alikes list isn't great, but it exists. Yay.
Jen is a barista with two big secrets. First, the homeless guy who keeps coming by the cafe where she works and who she keeps giving day-old baked goods to is really her paranoid schizophrenic father. And second, she has an ability known as automatic writing – someone or something writes messages to her via her left hand. Her latest message: “Dear Jen, Arthur is screwing Misty.” Arthur is Jen's cop boyfriend, and Misty is Jen's half-sister and nemesis.
Jen dumps Arthur after confirming that he did, in fact, sleep with Misty. Then she decides to get back at Misty with some dog poop. It's a spur of the moment thing, and it isn't until after she lobs the poop into Misty's apartment that she realizes that Misty is lying dead on the floor, her throat slashed.
As my description indicates, Jen isn't the most mature person ever. I really, really didn't like her. It was more than just the dog poop incident – it was nearly everything about her and the way she interacted with the world.
After she read the message to herself about Arthur cheating on her with Misty, she went to Arthur, took his loaded gun, and pointed it at his crotch while she interrogated him. I get that she was angry, but what sane person does that? Later on, they both demonstrated their incredible grossness and stupidity by sleeping with each other after Jen, in a bout of fear and worry that her dad might have been involved in Misty's death, called Arthur. Who sleeps with a person who recently pointed a loaded gun at your crotch? Who sleeps with a person who made you so angry that you pointed a loaded gun at them? Why did these characters have to be so awful?
I also didn't like the way Jen bashed the cafe's part-timers for being skinny. Her comment to one of them: “Grab a muffin or three. Put some meat on your bones before you cut someone.” (51) And no, she didn't mean it in a snarky friendly way – she didn't even consider the part-timers worth the effort of remembering their names. Even Mitch, her coworker, thought her treatment of the part-timers was a bit much.
Speaking of Mitch, I spent a good chunk of the book wondering if he was going to be Jen's obligatory love interest. On the one hand, books like this often have a love interest, and he seemed like the most likely one. He was good-looking and willing to let Jen cry on his shoulder if she needed to. On the other hand, I disliked Jen enough that I couldn't help but think that Mitch was too good for her. He was even a better barista than she was. His only failings were that he teased her for taking baked goods to the homeless guy near the cafe (he didn't know the man was Jen's father, but that still didn't excuse the teasing) and that learning about Jen's automatic writing freaked him out. The relationship between him and Jen petered out before it even began. I'm not sure why the author bothered, unless there are plans to turn this into a series.
The most appealing thing about this book was the mystery. I genuinely had trouble figuring out who the killer might be, although I had suspicions that turned out to be correct. The killer's efforts to cover their tracks were very messy and unfocused. The aspects that initially caught my attention, the coffee shop stuff and the automatic writing, were so-so at best. Like I said, Mitch was a better barista than Jen was. Also, Jen's automatic writing only cropped up a few times. It was briefly mentioned that the spirit that spoke through Jen was probably someone close to her, but nothing ever came of that – another indication that this might become the first book in a series.
However, even if a second book gets published, I'm not planning on reading it. Grounds to Kill already gave me more of Jen than I really wanted. I'd rather not subject myself to more.
- On What Grounds (book) by Cleo Coyle - The first book in the Coffee House mystery series. I'll just say right now that two thirds of this read-alikes list is based on the coffee theme - I haven't read any of these and have no idea if the characters are all that similar to Roberts' characters. This one features a main character who returns to New York City after 10 years away in order to manage a historic coffee shop. She discovers her assistant manager dead at the bottom of some stairs.
- Uncommon Grounds (book) by Sandra Balzo - The first book in the Maggy Thorsen mystery series. This one features a coffee shop owner who's all set to open her shop when she discovers her business partner dead in front of the espresso maker.
- False Fortune (book) by Twist Phelan - This is the fourth book in a series. I thought it might work as a read-alike for those looking for another mystery featuring strained sisterly relationships.