Wow! It's been a hectic two weeks here in my neck of the woods. My computer's been down off and on due to a glitch in an AT&T connection program; my refrigerator died without any warning at all (there's nothing like finding totally liquid ice cream in your freezer at nine o'clock on a Sunday evening); and I spent two days fighting off migraines, plus one morning in the ER getting treatment for the kind of pain associated with kidney stones. What fun.
As a result of all of the above -- plus a lot of other things too mundane to mention here -- I'm way behind on posting those reviews I mentioned here the last time I blogged. I've been reading first books in a series, and have found a few that I can recommend for light summer reading, the sort often called "beach reads".
Jana DeLeon writes Harlequin romance novels (none of which I've read) while also penning humorous mysteries. I fell for the covers shown above and decided to try TROUBLE IN MUDBUG, the first book in her Ghost-in-Law series. I loved it!
Botanist Maryse Robicheaux thinks she's losing her mind when she sees her detested mother-in-law rise out of her coffin during her funeral service. Turns out Maryse isn't nuts at all. Helena Henry is truly back -- as a ghost, that is -- and still causing trouble for poor Maryse. All the botanist wants is time left alone to pursue her hunt for a possible life-saving plant growing somewhere in the bayous near Mudbug, Louisianna. Helena has other plans for the young woman. One of those plans involves finding the person who sent Helena to an early grave; a second plan centers on saving a nature preserve from a greedy chemical company that views the bayou as a natural dumping ground. As if Maryse's life isn't complicated enough, DEQ Agent Luc LeJeune shows up on her doorstep masquerading as a state scientist. Luc can't tell Maryse about his true mission in Mudbug, and Maryse can't tell Luc about the ghost stalking her every move. But hiding the truth from each other doesn't help either one of them, especially not after someone tries to remove Maryse from the scene -- permanently.
DeLeon's experience as a writer shows in this bright and bouncy mystery. Both primary and secondary characters are unique and well developed. (I personally adored nasty old Helena and couldn't help but chuckle over her misadventures in adjusting to ghost-hood.) The plot moved smoothly along; the setting and pacing were excellent. I'm definitely going to read the other books in this series, plus the two books in DeLeon's "Miss Fortune" series and her stand-alone mysteries.
PLAYING WITH POISON is the first book in Cindy Blackburn's "Cue Ball Mysteries" series. Romance writer, pool shark, and champagne lover Jessie Hewitt earns the suspicion of the police in Clarence, North Carolina when her neighbor's boyfriend stumbles into Jessie's condo and drops dead on her couch. Jessie can't tell Captain Wilson Rye why she automatically knew Stanley Sweetzer had been poisoned; Rye looks at her askance when she blames it on writer's intuition. His doubt deepens when Jessie denies any knowledge of the files that Stanley, a financial advisor by profession, kept on her. How did Stanley find out about her divorce settlement, her book royalties, etc.? Jessie makes it her business to investigate the dead man and his possible link to Jessie's ex-husband.
When not sleuthing, Jessie and her condo friends Karen Sembler -- a carpenter and creator of one-of-a-kind furniture -- and Candy Poppe -- a lingerie salesperson and girlfriend to the murdered Stanley -- spend their time drinking champagne at The Stone Fountain, a cozy bar and eatery across the street from their building. Gossip reigns at The Stone Fountain, and gossip is what eventually helps Jessie solve the case.
Cindy Blackburn obviously had fun writing this book. I enjoyed her descriptions of Jessie's romance novel characters and the trials and tribulations those characters faced chapter by chapter. And of course it's hard to ignore Blackburn's choice of names for some of her characters. Candy Poppe and Stanley Sweetzer? Oh, yeah. Blackburn's tongue was firmly lodged in her cheek when she christened those two.
I found Jessie to be an intelligent, gutsy woman who I could easily drink champagne with any day of the week. I liked the other female characters, too, and felt the dialogue flowing among them was realistic to their gender. I admit that the editor in me cringed a few times while reading this book, but the errors I caught really didn't detract from the story and probably wouldn't bother the majority of readers. On the whole, I found this book to be a pleasant beach read and quite a decent first effort. I'll definitely give the next book in the series a try.
THIS WEEK'S EDITING TIP:
Click on the pilcrow, or paragraph, mark on your toolbar when self-editing your manuscript. The pilcrow symbol (shown to the right here) should be seen at the end of the last sentence in each paragraph. It should not be preceded by extra periods. Right: The boy ran away.¶ Wrong: The boy ran away...¶ By clicking on the pilcrow, you'll also catch other formatting errors, like extra spaces at the beginning of paragraphs. The pilcrow is your friend. Use it!