Dating Can Be Murder

Dying to Meet You

Ninja Soccer Moms
by Jennifer Apodaca
(Kensington, $22.00, PG-13) ISBN 0-7582-0449-3
With what this reviewer considers the best book title ever, Apodaca’s feisty, slightly bungling heroine, Samantha Shaw returns for her third adventure.

Sam hates soccer, and was more than pleased to leave the soccer mom scene behind when she dropped her Holly Homemaker persona for her new, independent businesswoman image. However being the sexiest mom in Lake Elsinore, California isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even when she starts out with the best of intentions she always manages to stumble over a dead body.

An old acquaintance, Janie Tuggle, needs Sam’s help. Seems Janie’s ex-husband isn’t what he appears to be. Chad Tuggle is a town hero, having led the local soccer club to numerous championships. After dumping her for a younger bimbo, Janie is exiled from the community, living in a tiny trailer and trying to support her kids. She wants revenge – badly. She suspects that Chad has been embezzling money from the soccer club, but she needs proof. That’s where Sam comes in, and she soon hits the ground running.

Sam is almost positive that Chad is up to no good, but before she barely begins snooping, the weasel ends up dead. Someone hated Chad enough to bash his brains in. Now with Janie a prime suspect, and Sam in the sights of the local police detective, she promises to get to the truth. The problem is, her maybe boyfriend, a local hunky PI has clammed up since he’s now working for Dara Reed – the bimbo Chad Tuggle dumped his wife for.

Mystery series tend to hit their stride with book three, and Ninja Soccer Moms is no exception. While Sam is an accident waiting to happen, she’s also not a total bubblehead. She’s the Teflon amateur sleuth who gets backed into a corner, but always manages to find a way out of it. All this while trying to raise her two sons, keep her computer hacker grandfather in line, run her dating service business, keep up with her romance novel reviewing, and trying to decipher her confusing relationship with the hunky PI, Gabe Pulizzi. Her sparring relationship with detective Logan Vance certainly doesn’t help matters either.

The mystery here is pretty decent. While I think the author tips her hand a little early about the culprit, the reasons behind the murder are inventive. There are also a lot of skeletons lurking in Lake Elsinore closets and it’s fun to discover the secrets the characters are trying to hide from not only the police detective, but from known snoop Sam.

Love triangles are admittedly not my thing, and blessedly Apodaca doesn’t really tread that path with Sam, Vance and Gabe. We know our girl’s heart lies with Gabe, but she’s been badly burned before. That and she has her sons to think about. Vance seems more interested in Sam than she in him, but his feelings for her are love/hate. He says it best himself when he admits, “Swear to God, you drive me crazy. I can never decide if I should kill you or kiss you.”

Book three also usually signals that a series is a series. While Ninja Soccer Moms stands alone for the most part, there is spoiler information regarding the previous two books. There is also some background information that isn’t fleshed out entirely for the newcomers’ benefit. To learn the real scoop behind Sam’s skittishness about Gabe and learn what a weasel her ex was, it’s best to start at the beginning with Dating Can Be Murder.

Jennifer Apodaca’s series has quickly become one of my favorites. While Sam doesn’t always look before she leaps, she has a way of landing on her feet nicely. The sexual tension between her and Gabe adds enough heat to keep any romance reader very happy, and the mystery is light enough to please cozy readers. I can’t recommend this series enough, and with a killer title like Ninja Soccer Moms, it’s this reviewer’s opinion that this is entry in the series that places Apodaca firmly on the map.

--Wendy Crutcher

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