I am still slogging through the Nathaniel Hawthorne book for my book group, which technically should be over by the end of February, but when I needed a break from all his heavy prose, I read two mysteries that will be published in the next few weeks (galleys courtesy of Net Galley).
Shards of Murder by Cheryl Hollan It's pretty clear from this blog that I read a lot of cosy mysteries. Shards of Murder had potential, but I think could have benefited from a strong editor. Pages and pages were spent on introducing the reader to students in a glass making class who were not really relevant to the story (used as an aside to fill in Savannah's day when not detecting could have been dealt with in a few short paragraphs)--they weren't suspects, they didn't detect, nothing. Savannah is supposed to be a great glass artist, best in her class at school, and yet she wears matronly clothes (this is what she wore to judge a juried art show: tailored black jacket, plain white cotton blouse, khaki slacks, straw hat, jute shoes--do artists even own khaki pants? This sounds like something this college prof would wear to proctor an exam) and doesn't know the term hoochy mama? Our love interest wears his pants tucked into his cowboy boots? Never, never, never! It read like the author was trying to hoodwink the reader into thinking she was a bohemian artist herself and got the culture, but the reality is plainly different. Some informal word choices ("lastly" in a list of 2 things?) and odd verb choices, describing something as the second item of the same kind to appear when the first wasn't even mentioned until several paragraphs later--all could have been taken care of easily and would have improved the narrative. And I hated (hated is strong, but is accurate) the condescending attitude Savannah had to the the twins when the reader is first introduced to them--"it's pretty amazing that they walk from their house every day. Especially when you consider they are 87 years old," in front of them, to strangers--every near 87-year-old I know would have smacked Savannah upside the head for that disrespect. No real insider to the committee would have spoken the way he did. I wanted to like this book (it has a dog, who does agility, and a potentially really interesting setting in the juried art show, and a potentially interesting secondary character in the kid with Asperger's) but it fell flat for me on many levels. Here's my advice--drop the stupid white board, and if they have to use it, Savannah spends way too much time erasing names and reassigning tasks that the reader could not care less about, so nix all those passages that reproduce the whiteboard.Get a strong editor, tone down the lessons on glass making to just what is needed to advance the story, and bring in some humor or local color.
Skinny Dipping with Murder by Auralee Wallace A much better mystery. Funny, with characters that were much more engaging, better flow in the narrative and continuity (clearly a better editor), and only a sprinkling of typos (oddly, all at the end of the book). Erica's obsession with her teenage embarrassment did get tiresome, but I guess it is true that teenage humiliations are hard to overcome. The supporting characters are almost all well fleshed out, although I really didn't get a grasp on her mother as a hippy other than being repeatedly told she was. Vegan? So what, I know lots of vegans who aren't anywhere near hippydom. The romance with Grady has potential, and he seems like a nice guy, which I can't always say about mystery romantic leads (who tend to be a little too perfect and too smarmy, in my opinion). Freddie is a great sidekick and I hope we see more of him in future books. The mystery wasn't very mysterious (I had the murderer pegged immediately after the murder) but the pratfalls Erica experiences on the way to solving the mystery were funny, the pacing was good, and I'd be happy to spend more time at Otter Lake.