Mini-Reviews Prince of Venice Beach and the Murder Complex

Welcome to Mini-Reviews, a periodic feature in which I give you a lickety-split take on two or three recent reads. Today I'm featuring a contemporary book and a post-apocalyptic debut.

Prince of Venice Beach
by Blake Nelson
Published by Little, Brown BFYR
on June 3, 2014

Source: bought

Synopsis from Goodreads: Robert "'Cali" Callahan is a teen runaway, living on the streets of Venice Beach, California. He's got a pretty sweet life: a treehouse to sleep in, a gang of surf bros, a regular basketball game...even a girl who's maybe-sorta interested in him. What he doesn't have is a plan. All that changes when a local cop recommends Cali to a private investigator who is looking for a missing teenager. After all, Cali knows everyone in Venice. But the streets are filled with people who don't want to be found, and when he's hired to find the beautiful Reese Abernathy, who would do anything to stay hidden, Cali must decide where his loyalties truly lie.

My take: If you read my review of We Are the Goldens last week, you know that I'm a big fan of sparely-written contemporary books. And Prince of Venice Beach, at a slim 240 pages, falls into that category for me. I've never read any of Blake Nelson's other YA books, but this one impressed me. It's a tightly focused story of a street kid and his (perhaps brief) foray into PI work.

What did I love most?  The carefree yet sinister atmosphere of Venice Beach that the book evokes. In the story, the beach is the a haven he counterculture, slightly sketchy trailer park residents, and runaway teens. Cali is a also runaway, but he's landed on his feet, living in the treehouse of a kindly, free-spirited Good Samaritan and trying to decide whether or not he's interested in a nerdy-yet-special girl named Ailis. (I was shipping them hard - LOVED her.) When Cali is offered money to help find a missing person, he jumps on the chance, then begins to second guess his decision.

This book won't be for everyone, but it really worked for me. If you enjoy YA with a guy's POV and don't insist on having all the loose ends tied up in your reading, give this one a try!

The Murder Complex
by Lindsay Cummings
To be published by Greenwillow Books
on June 10, 2014

Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from Goodreads: Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision. The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?
My take: I have not really been in the mood to read dark books as of late, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. The Murder Complex features a very cool setting (a post-apocalyptic Florida Everglades) and does a fantastic job of creating an overall dark and gritty mood. The writing style worked well for the genre -- I thought that the action scenes were very well-done, and there were plenty of them.

I had a few tiny issues. As often is the case in first books of dystopian/post-apocalyptic series, some of the backstory seemed a little murky. While I thought that the book's major plot twists were clever and unexpected, many of them were conveyed through big chunks of dialogue.  The romance was a bit of a sticking point for me as well.  I usually love me a tough girl/sweet guy pairing, but I never felt like I was seeing these two fall for each other in anything but a superficial way. (ETA: I see that some reviewers are calling the pairing insta-lovey, but the issue for me was that I wanted to really feel what drew them together. They kept talking about how much they loved each other, but I wasn't buying it completely.)

In the end, I was most emotionally touched by Meadow's relationships with her family and by the friendship between Zephyr and the funny, irreverent Talan. She was actually my favorite character and I was hoping that ...  you can read the spoiler on Goodreads if you want. But all in all, I thought this was a promising debut. If you have read and enjoyed books like Reboot, you should definitely try this!


  1. I'm so excited to see that you enjoyed The Murder Complex. And the Reboot comparison has got me convinced. Thanks for the heads up about minor worldbuilding/romance issues. It sounds like some of the family & friend relationships make up for it. I'll try this one next time I need something a bit darker. :)

  2. I usually have worldbuilding questions in the first books of trilogies. And the romance may work better for you. If not, there's plenty of action and plot twist!

  3. I usually LOVE dark books, and I personally cannot wait for The Murder Complex, and I hope I enjoy the romance a bit more, lol :)

    1. If you love dark books, this will be SO for you and the romance probably won't be an issue!

  4. I'm excited for both of these books! I'm glad to see you enjoyed them, I was kind of on the fence about The Prince of Venice Beach but I'm definitely going to check it out now. It sounds like it's my thing.

    1. I was on the fence too, but it was really cool and different.

  5. Prince of Venice Beach sounds really fun. Im not sure if The Murder Complex is my type of book... The synopsis alone scares me. lol :)

  6. I am dying to read The Murder Complex....These are great reviews as always :)

  7. I totally agree about TMC. I enjoyed it a lot though I had a few issues as well. Something about the romance was off but it was hard to pin point. I think you got it though...I didn't feel it. Was a bunch of words that didn't provoke feelings in me. Great review Jen!

  8. I noticed the majority of the people were very lukewarm to TMC. It was good, but there were a lot of details that they could have gone without. I think the romance played a huge part of it because for many it was not justified... can you imagine instantly falling in love with someone you just saw in your dreams? :/ In any case, Prince of Venice Beach sounds good! It sounds like a noir one that would portray a harsh reality or at least an allusion to reality. Great review!

    Faye at The Social Potato Reviews

  9. I just saw The Prince of Venice Beach at the book store today! I might have to check it out, because I find I'm beginning to like male POV's more than I used to. Especially since you say you loved the love interest in this one. That's usually my biggest problem with male POV's, the girls always come off so one dimensional.

  10. Ooh, I may have to look further into Prince of Venice Beach. I love the sound of the atmosphere. Plus, it's contemporary (my favorite genre).

    I'll be reading The Murder Complex very soon and I'm a teensy bit nervous now. I really don't like feeling the connection in a pairing--it tends to be a big problem if the rest of the book doesn't distract me from it. I did really like Reboot, though, so hopefully I'll like TMC as much.

    Great reviews, Jen!

  11. Out of these two I'm more drawn to TPoVB as it's a contemp, but The Murder Complex sounds intriguing, Jen!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist

  12. I enjoyed The Murder Complex too and will review it soon.

    Great mini reviews, Jen!

  13. Great reviews. Happy to hear you enjoyed The Murder Complex as I am planning to read that one real soon.

  14. The Reboot comparison has me thanking my lucky stars I decided to pass on The Murder Complex, but your description of the sparseness of Prince of Venice Beach makes me think I should definitely pick that one up.

  15. I'm not a huge fan of dark novels, but I really want to read the Murder Complex. It sounds really good, and although I've seen some mixed reviews, I'm still pretty excited. I loved Reboot so hopefully I will like it as well!


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