After living in the suburbs in New Jersey for ten years, Clare Cosi is lured back to New York City to resume her old job as manager of Village Blend, a culturally and historically prominent coffee house in On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle. Invited by the owner, her ex-mother-in-law, to move into the apartment above the shop, Clare arrives about 9 a.m. on her move-in day to find to her dismay that the shop is still closed and empty. Walking through the store, Clare almost trips over the trash can that is sitting on the steps and starts to curse out Annabel, the assistant manager who was supposed to open the store that day. Then she looks down and finds Annabel on the ground, just barely clinging to life.
The police come but soon give up on the idea of foul play despite Clare’s intuition that someone pushed Annabel down the steps, especially since Annabel is a dancer with terrific coordination. Then Annabel’s extremely crass step-mother shows up and shouts in front of everyone in the reopened coffee house that she is suing them for not just the medical treatment but for suffering and that soon she will own the whole store. Things get worse when Mateo, Clare’s ex-husband, discovers that the previous incompetent manager has neglected to pay the insurance, leaving them with no coverage to pay for Annabel’s costs. Thus, Clare embarks upon a crucial quest to prove intent to kill Annabel, who remains unconscious in the ICU.
This book clearly shows a whole lot of research into the topic of coffee and the many types of coffee, as well as its detailed methods of preparing it to the best quality. The book has details about coffee preparation scattered throughout the whole book, which is often incorporated into the plot of the book and sometimes as a lesson as an introduction to certain chapters. The topic of coffee plays a role in the plot of the book, as well as in helping Clare develop relationships as she makes gourmet coffee for the police and others.
Further, I enjoyed the periodic academic discussions about various thoughts on life and referencing well-known authors in their critical analyses of life.
As a person who does not like coffee, I found the extensive talk on the subject to get tedious and also a bit beyond my understanding of the topic of coffee making. The plot was not as full as I’d prefer, since so much time was devoted to personal issues related to Clare and her ex-husband, Mateo. I was disappointed in the lack of depth of the mystery plot, especially given the degree of effort put into talk of coffee.
The audio version is performed by Rebecca Gibel, who helps to keep this book lively. She does good characters, but especially I felt she did an amazing job with Cassandra, Annabel’s dance teacher from the Caribbean. This teacher speaks with so much passion and has a good, believable accent. I was really impressed by this character in particular and thought the narrator did a good job.
On What Grounds is a fairly interesting book, though I did wish there was more character development, as it introduces people who seem they will have significant roles, only to drop them. I would have liked a stronger plot as well. But it still has great points to the book. I give the book four stars.
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