Just days ago, one of my online book forums gleefully poked at the hackneyed bullet list of plot points that a subset of the cosy mystery genre always exhibits: main character suffers some kind of emotional setback--loses job or fiance or both, has unexpected turn of good luck by inheriting business-house-pet, mystery follows, amateur detective figures out the whodunnit way ahead of the professionals, her love interest/child/self is almost killed, murder is solved, rainbows erupt all over as flowers burst forth and birds sing and her life turns from an bottomless pit of one bad thing after another into a sweeping tide of good fortune and sunny skies. However, there's no reason a book that follows these hackneyed bullet points can't be fun to read, especially in the dog days of summer.
Engaged in Death by Stephanie Blackmoore Hackneyed props: woman dumps two-timing fiance, only to have his grandmother leave the grandmother's house to her upon her death. Woman and sister move in, murder follows. While this follows the typical genre format, I did enjoy Engaged in Death overall: I liked the fact the sisters were so very different; I liked the grandmother; I liked the old house. I didn't particularly like how Mallory gave Summer a kitten even after Summer told her her father wouldn't let her get one. Great way to get the kid in trouble and annoy the neighbors (of course, it had a happy ending, but in real life, these kittens get tossed in the trash or worse). I didn't like the way Rachel just ignored her sister's misgivings and started the wedding business. I also didn't like how the wedding business venture was undertaken: no business would let the menu and so many other things be changed literally days before the wedding, at least, not without charging an arm and a leg for it. The food has already been ordered and probably delivered, same for flowers, etc. And I also was irritated by Mallory's exchange with Bev's son--she set out to find out if he was involved in the murder, so why feel mortified? And the reader is told repeatedly how big the mansion is (even though it only has one bathroom), but then Mallory thinks she can get it ready to sell in two weeks (see location 2960); please. My house is 1200 sq ft and I couldn't get it ready to sell in two weeks, and I only have one bathroom, too. All in all, the book was pleasant. I wasn't sure Mallory was a very good lawyer, since the words "small business loan" "illegal hacking into computer files" were lost on her, plus there was no addressing the question of whether the muffins and cake Rachel cooked and sold in their kitchen were a health department violation, and let's be serious, no probate would have allowed the money to be released that quickly that one month later, renovations were underway. Still, if you can overlook being annoyed by little discrepancies at a regular rate, you will enjoy this as a quick summer read. I'd give this one a grade of B.
Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel The east coast of Maryland--one of my favorite places; I'd love to live there so I was immediately interested in the book. Follows hackneyed plotline--after divorce, woman retreats to inherited farm and opens cafe. I was ambivalent about the main character, Rosalie. I found her interactions with Tyler and reactions to Bini a little immature. But I really liked Glenn, the main secondary character, and some of the other locals. Some editing would have helped passages like this: "Crows will keep the hawk away," Bini said, followed two lines later by Rosalie asking "Are they at least keeping the hawk away?" Some of the supposed banter fell flat (a navigation system to clear a path through a bunch of dogs? No, maybe a broom to clear a path, not a GPS.), and would a woman who owns a farm and lectures the reader about organic food really have no idea what a CSA is? That question should have been asked by one of the locals, not Rosalie. But then, this is a woman who lectured a gay man about knowing what it felt like to be a social pariah after her divorce (as if that is even remotely similar to the experiences of a gay person in our culture). I also had another problem with timelines in this book, too: it takes months to get a liquor license, sometimes, and yet Rosalie gets hers in a matter of days. And what mother just barges into her daughter's bedroom when the latch is on, which she acknowledges is unusual for the daughter, and then is horrified by what she sees (or thinks she sees)? And what woman who is so enamored of her chickens that she names them doesn't ask which one was eaten by the hawk? This many seem like a litany of nitpicking, but these are just a few instances of little annoyances that started to mass and detract from any enjoyment of the book. I'll probably give this author another chance because of the location and Glen, but if I had to grade this, I'd give it an A for location and a C for everything else.
Show Time by Suzanne Trauth This, too, manages to incorporate some of the required hackneyed bullet points: Dodie lost her home and her job to Hurricane Sandy, moves to north New Jersey and gets a job with a cousin of her former employer. See, that's how you spin the hackneyed bullet points in your favor. Full disclosure--I really wanted to like this book because it takes place in my old home state, New Jersey, and there is a real love of everything Jersey in this book. And overall, i did like the book. I liked Dodie, her friends, the fact that she recognizes her job is pretty much a dead end job but she likes her life (for the most part) and is content. I didn't like her willfully ignoring passing on information to the cops she knew she should because otherwise the author might have had to work a little harder to make her central to solving the mystery. What cop worth his badge doesn't investigate the entire building where a dead body is found? I'm supposed to believe no police officer went to the third floor of the theater, where the murder actually took place? And do not get me started on the whole getting Pauli (a minor!) to hack into Jerome's email and Dodie not understanding or appreciating why Bill the Handsome Cop was so pissed off (even though he spells it out for with the words "inadmissible evidence."). But I loved the wonderful way my NJ was depicted, and so I will give this one an A for location and overall a B+.
Big Foot Stole My Wife by Joan Hess A collection of short stories by one of the funniest mystery authors writing today. Hess departs from her laugh-out-loud style for some of these short stories, but I was delighted to see Arly and Ruby Bee make an appearance and they did not disappoint. This one gets an A, as all Hess books do.
A new Donna Andrews and a new Joan Hess--August was a good month for a mystery lover.