Review: Box of Rocks by Karla Telega

WARNING: Do not read this book while eating. To do so may cause you to choke to death on your own laughter.

Box of Rocks Cover

eBook is $2.99, Paperback is $9.95

I’ll start by paying new author Karla Telega the highest form of compliment I can give: in many ways, her writing reminds me of that of bestselling author Janet Evanovich. Another reviewer has compared Maggie and Cher to Thelma and Louise, and I can see that…but to me, they’re more like Stephanie Plum and Lula for the AARP crowd

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Telega’s blog for some time now. If you haven’t yet had the privilege, check it out–you’re in for a real treat. Telega has her liver-spotted finger on the weak pulse of over-50 women everywhere.

But getting back to BOX OF ROCKS–Karla Telega has created characters that are outrageously funny but at the same time people readers can relate to–even Bear (admit it–who hasn’t had a Wile E. Coyote moment in their lives?).

As author and co-founder of upstart publisher Adoro Books, Karla Telega has published a book that’s been handled with pure professionalism, start to finish–from Karla’s exceptional writing to the fine editing skills of Martin Rus and Rosanne Dingli to the brilliant cover art of El Kartun, which would stand out anywhere. I am so pleased to see that this is just the beginning of a series!  

Secrets, Friends, and an Inept Killer: Box of Rocks

This is a reprint from my blog for Karla Telega’s Box of Rocks, which you may have missed the first time out….
“I imagine that you and Cher can come up with something that will test the bounds of the legal system.”A remark early on from a therapist, and it entirely fits the events in Box of Rocks. The novel is the first by writer Karla Telega, and combines mystery, comedy, secrets, and the bond of friendship into a good narrative. At its heart are Maggie Gorski and Cher Anderson, two South Carolina friends in their fifties. Maggie is happily married to Ted, while Cher is a single woman after her first and only marriage ended years before. Maggie copes with anxieties and phobias, particularly about designer dogs (that rates as an odd phobia, but she has good reason), while Cher seeminglylives a carefree life. Their idea of recreation is finding odd misadventures to occupy their time, from following ghost tours to target shooting. The latest notion to cross their mind is to go panning for gold in the wilderness.There are, of course, other players in the book. Paul Lakeland, a graduate student in archaeology, makes a discovery in the woods related to his doctoral thesis, within an abandoned mine, finding evidence of an old legend linked to the Creek Indians. If the evidence leads in the direction he expects, it could be the discovery of a lifetime. He shares his hopes with his graduate advisor, Samuel Peters, who, as fate would have it, conspires to take credit for the discovery himself. Apparently the good professor forgot to take classes on ethics when he was a student.

The last key player of the book is a man nicknamed Bear. He and a confederate have been working deeper in that mine, and we quickly discover that they’re working on extracting a vein of gold they’ve discovered. Bear has been watching Paul, who’s oblivious to being watched, let alone to the other work going on in the mine. He views Paul as a potential threat to the payday he has coming, and decides to act to remove the threat.

Paths cross between the characters out in the rural backwoods and in the city. Bear makes attempt after attempt to kill Paul, each time failing. It’s a combination of bad luck for Bear, and very good luck for the otherwise clumsy Paul. Maggie and Cher meet Paul and Sam while starting out on their prospecting misadventure. After Sam gets killed by Bear- who was aiming to kill Paul- Maggie and Cher discover the body, and find themselves looking into the crime.

The book hinges on the quality of its characters, and particularly on the friendship and chemistry between Maggie and Cher, who are its greatest strength. I liked the way these two have history, a mutual understanding and support of each other. Cher, who could very easily be just the comic relief of the book (her general and funny stereotyping of rural folk is one such example), shows unexpected depth when discovering a connection to another character. As Maggie finds out something about her friend that even she didn’t know, it would be easy, given the circumstances, for Cher to feel resentment towards the character in question, but instead feels a great empathy. I found this a good touch. It gives the character depth.

Maggie herself is a good character too. Her phobias come across as real- and funny- and her way of dealing with it even more so. She has a good, easygoing chemistry and relationship with her husband Ted. Their banter and scenes together have a natural feeling. She’s got a ferocious loyalty to the people she loves, and her personality has layers and quirks, which add to how real she feels to the reader. She’s someone we can particularly relate to.

Good characterization extends to the rest of the book. Paul has the luck of the Irish, it seems, surviving multiple attempts on his life with unexpected grace. He’s very likeable… if a bit incapable of seeing potential threats around him. I find that a good touch, actually. Academics can be so narrowly focused on their own interests that they’re oblivious to anything else. And Sam’s unethical turn to try to claim credit for Paul’s discovery rings true too. There’s more then a share of devious academics out there.

Bear, as he’s known early on, is an unlikely funny criminal. Writing from his point of view is a challenge- for reasons that come clear later on in the book- but his decisions are understandable; he’s driven by his own greed. And the failures of his attempts to kill Paul made me laugh, almost cartoonish in the way they come apart. Each time he’s a target, Paul comes across as the Road Runner, surviving certain death by sheer luck. That, of course, makes Bear the Coyote. His intricate plans come apart on him time and time again, and he’s left wondering just how did that happen?

There’s a good attention to detail throughout the book. Karla lives in the Carolinas, and so is writing about her proverbial back yard. From setting details such as plant life or architecture to the cultural details that are inherently part of the region, these are things that give the book a sense of authenticity that an outsider wouldn’t otherwise have picked up on.

Murder and danger drive the plot along, but she uses a healthy dose of humor along the way. It gives the book a sense of levity and lightness, and makes us like the characters all the more. I’m not usually a mystery reader, but I quite enjoyed reading Box of Rocks, and it’s the humor, pacing, and especially the two leading ladies that make it work so well.

Book Review: “Box of Rocks” by Karla Telega

Box of Rocks Book Cover

Available in eBook format for $2.99

“Box of Rocks” is a mystery novel about a middle aged woman named Maggie Gorski and her close friend, Cher Anderson. Maggie has been down on herself, having left her job a year before due to panic attacks. She also has had other signs of aging. She now feels as though her life is uneventful. Cher on the other hand is rich, left with a lot of money from her ex-husband who impregnated his secretary.

Maggie’s therapist recommends that she find a hobby. Who better to help her than her closest friend? After getting a bit drunk, they come up with a list of things that could possibly function as this hobby. After scratching the first two, they come to the third one which is rock collecting.

In the mean time, Paul Lakeland is working on his doctoral thesis in archaeology. He manages to stumble on an old burial ground that happens to be a literal gold mine. His thesis advisor wants his historical discovery. Bear on the other hand wants to keep the gold a secret for his own purposes. It turns out Bear isn’t very good at murder and all hell breaks loose.

The paths of several people who do not know each other cross and Maggie and Cher go from hobby seekers to attempting to solve a murder, with the “help” of their two dogs.

First of all, this book is absolutely hilarious. The descriptions and dialog are hysterical. Here are some examples:

“She mentally went through her list:

Life insurance paid up: check
Will up to date: check
Wearing clean underwear: check”

“When Maggie returned home, she found Ted standing in the garage, staring thoughtfully at his arch-nemesis, the lawnmower.”

The characters are vibrant and come to life in such a way that you’ll believe they are real people who the author simply observed and recorded. If you are a fan of mysteries or just want to be able to laugh and enjoy a good book, this is definitely one for you.