Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Joan Hess, and Odds and Ends

I decided to transition from a kids' book (The Joy of Spooking) to literary fiction (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) via mystery, so I chose #4 in Joan Hess's Claire Malloy series. Don't overthink it; it works for me. This entry, A Really Cute Corpse, finds Claire unwillingly overseeing the Miss Thurberfest pageant. After several attempts on the reigning Ms. Thurberfest's life, someone finally succeeds. This book is a bit longer in page count than the first three and it *felt* a bit longer. Since I like Claire and the supporting characters, I didn't mind this at all. The first perhaps half of the book is spent on pageant happenings and the political scene (a state senator is involved in the pageant; his aide once had a torrid affair with Cyndi) as Claire wonders if the accidents surrounding Cyndi are deliberate or not. Once Cyndi's out of the picture, Claire moves from suspect to suspect before she solves the puzzle. Objectively, I have to say that as a mystery, this is not Hess's best. However, I find the series so enjoyable that even a weak entry is a satisfying read. The pageant wasn't the most interesting setting and the suspects were a bit obvious. However, Hess's acerbic wit and deft descriptions were entertaining and funny as usual. If you're a cozy mystery fan looking for humor, pick up the first, Strangled Prose.

My review of #1 (Strangled Prose)
My reviews of #2 (The Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn) and #3 (Dear Miss Demeanor)

I couldn't really find a good book for the plane (for maximum space efficiency, I only bring a mass market paperback in my bag), so I grabbed Sweet Talk by Susan Mallery since it wouldn't require that much attention and I would be able to put it down once I got home and got my review copies (which still have not arrived!). I enjoyed her Buchanans series as a diverting romance/women's fiction kind of series, but this, the first in a trilogy, was terrible. There are three sisters, and this one focuses on Claire, a famous concert pianist. Her sisters, Jesse and Nicole, hate Claire because she was sent away from home as a child prodigy to be spoiled and also because their mother died in a car accident while accompanying Claire). Jesse and Nicole co-own the family bakery and Nicole (who, by the way, is also not speaking to Jesse, whom she caught with her husband, and NOT playing Scrabble) has to have surgery. Jesse calls on Claire to come out and take care of Nicole. Nicole has no idea Jesse's done this and she's rude, ungrateful, and abusive to Claire when she arrives in the first of MANY scenes in which Nicole yells, throws fits, and blames her sister. Even when you think they've made progress, Nicole regresses into a spoiled, horrid child. Nicole has also whined about her sister to the extent that everyone she knows is hostile to Claire. One of those people is Wyatt, an I-am-through-with-relationships rude jerk. Mallery invokes that old friend to romance authors, magical sexual chemistry between people who hate each other, to get the relationship going. The best part of the book is Claire's developing relationship with Wyatt's deaf daughter. But it's not enough to recommend the book. It was obvious that Claire and Wyatt were going to end up together, but he was such a jerk, I was hoping they wouldn't. And her sisters were such jerks that the thin premise of "looking for family" didn't justify Claire's staying there. Claire herself was ridiculously naive, so she wasn't that likeable either. I only liked Amy, Wyatt's daughter. Presumably, in the subsequent books, we'll find out what happens with Nicole post-husband's-infidelity and with Jesse. But I really don't care.

Another book I attempted to read ages ago is A House Called Awful End by Philip Ardagh, book one in the Eddie Dickens Trilogy. I didn't get it. There were funny bits, but it was filled with tiresome one-liners so that plot advances happened at a glacial pace. My understanding is that it was intended for the Series of Unfortunate Events readers, but even the first of those (which, I must confess, I didn't like) was an improvement over this.

I just started The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and I'm loving it. This was an Early Reviewer book on LibraryThing and was really the one I wanted most. But I didn't get it, so I preordered it on amazon. It just came today and I opened it the minute I'd finished my Hess book. I can't wait to post a review.

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