Short & Sweet Sundays: Trouble in Mudbug by Jana Deleon

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist (from the publisher): Scientist Maryse Robicheaux thought that a lot of her problems had gone away with her mother-in-law’s death. The woman was rude, pushy, manipulative and used her considerable wealth to run herd over the entire town of Mudbug, Louisiana.

Unfortunately, death doesn’t slow down Helena one bit.

DEA Agent Luc LeJeune is wondering what his undercover assignment investigating the sexy scientist has gotten him into – especially as it seems someone wants her dead. Keeping his secrets while protecting Maryse proves to be easier than fighting his attraction for the brainy beauty.

Why I picked this book up: I love cozy mysteries, especially if they’re set in the South. Throw in a ghost, a psychic best friend and a smoking-hot mysterious man, and I’m sold! Plus the hot pink pickup truck on the cover really caught my eye.

What I liked: The quirky main character and her wise-cracking ghostly sidekick really stole the show. Maryse has a deep connection to her friends, her town and the Louisiana bayou. She’s also a science wiz and a hermit, which really sets her apart from most chick lit protagonists. What I really love about Maryse is her selfless passion for finding a cure for cancer. Sometimes I read books involving self-centered protagonists who are a little too wrapped up in their own melodrama. If the leading protagonist rubs me the wrong way, the book is going straight to the used bookstore bin. After the last dud I attempted to read, which I won’t even bother reviewing, this book was a breath of fresh air.

What irked me: The mystery is just a tad bit on the light side. It doesn’t take a Miss Marple to figure out whodunit early on in the story. But the well-developed characters, laugh-out-loud quips and smoking-hot sex scenes offset the soft mystery plot. If you’re looking for a fun, fast read, pick this one up.

The romance: Luc LeJeune is H-O-T! And wowza, I’ve got to hand it to the author, she sure knows how to write a scorching baby-making scene. Holy smokes – I was not expecting such a cute little cozy mystery to make me blush.  

Will I read another book by this author? Heck yes! She really left me hanging in the last chapter. I need to find out how Maryse’s psychic best friend, Sabine LaVeche, is going to overcome her medical crisis. She needs to find a blood relative – and fast! I’m also looking forward to more zany antics by Maryse’s ghostly mother-in-law. That prissy little old lady really cracks me up!  

If you like this book, you’ll also enjoy titles by: Carolyn Haines, Carolyn Hart, Casey Daniels and Victoria Laurie.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist: Amanda Blick leads a charmed life. She’s got a gorgeous French chef husband, a perfect little house in a high-class neighborhood, and a cute little rosy- cheeked boy.  But underneath the glossy surface, trouble is a’ brewing. Her husband seems to be working more late nights at the restaurant, and the female kitchen help can’t seem to look her in the eyes. Hmm….something smells fishy around here and I don’t’ think it’s the catch of the day!

It all comes to a head when she finds her husband and his sous chef in a rather…shall we say compromising position in the kitchen. Rather than sticking around to let him weasel his way back into her heart, she takes her rich mom up on her offer to spend the summer at the deliciously decadent St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.

Distraught over her husband’s betrayal, not even the plentiful umbrella drinks and cute cabana boys can put her mind at ease. That is until she bumps into Edward Jonas, a restaurateur with kind eyes and a sexy smile. Although her instincts tell her to steer clear of handsome culinary artists, there’s something about this low key silver fox that sets her heart aflutter! Is it wise to take a chance on another man before signing the divorce papers? Why does she still lust after her philandering husband? And most importantly – why must she continue to put her life on hold in the name of love?  

Why I chose this book: It’s summertime, so what could be better than soaking up the rays on my hot-pink beach towel with a romantic beach read?  I really enjoyed living vicariously in the St. Regis presidential suite, drinking the fruity cocktails, digging my toes in the soft sand, and riding along the Pacific Coast Highway in a sweet Bentley!

What I liked most: The ending. I was preparing myself for a predictable conclusion, but the author threw a major curve ball. Amanda’s got another big journey ahead of her – and I’m hoping there’s going to be a sequel!

Why it’s unique:  Come to think of it, most of the books I read don’t involve obscenely rich protagonists. Mostly, they’re career girls, struggling journalists and amateur sleuths.  So this book was kind of a departure from the norm.  Some may say that it’s too vapid and decadent, but I say lighten up people!  I enjoyed reading about Amanda’s fairytale life with two glamorous parents in a posh San Francisco mansion. I certainly am not a “lifestyle of the rich and famous” kind of girl, but I do think it’s amusing to read about that world.  

What irked me: I needed more action. It seemed that fine dining and cocktail hours dominated Amanda’s summertime activities. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about cozy restaurant scenes, but she needed to get out and have some fun! I want to immerse myself in the icy Pacific Ocean, ride with the dolphins, and zip over the waves in a jet ski! It’s a fabulous beach resort, so why not take advantage of all the amenities?  

This book is best paired with: A Bob Marley playlist, a pina colada and a comfy deck chair.

Would I read another book by this author? Most definitely! She certainly has a knack for character development and sharp dialogue.

If you like this book, you’ll also enjoy titles by: Jane Green, Kristin Hannah, Susan Mallory and Beatriz Williams.

Short & Sweet Sunday Review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

 In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist: Meet Tess Collins, a young housemaid who dreams of becoming a dressmaker. When she finds out about the Titanic‘s upcoming voyage to America, she scurries to the docks and pleads with first-class passengers to hire her on the spot. As luck would have it, she accidently meets England’s most famous fashion designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who just happens to be looking for a good personal maid. Bemused by the poor girls’ desperation, she takes her under her wing. Four days after setting sail, the  ship takes a nosedive and Tessa mercifully scores a seat – right next to the venerable Unsinkable Molly Brown – in one of the few lifeboats.

Shortly after the ship plummets to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, rumors about the survivors and the half-empty lifeboats run rampant in the news. And when the New York Times catches on to Lady Duff Gordon’s cowardly actions, she soon becomes the target of public scorn. When Lady Duff’s stories don’t add up, Tess must make some tough decisions. Should she ignore the accusations against her boss and continue moving up the ladder to stardom? Or should she take the moral high ground and walk out on the woman who turned her back on a sea of drowning souls? 

Why I picked it up: Confession – I’m a closet hopeless romantic. Though I scoff at my friends who cry over their popcorn during cinematic love scenes, I’m not as cynical as I appear to be. When I slip out to “go to the bathroom,” I’m actually sobbing into my hanky and shaking off the warm fuzzies. Since these poor saps aren’t big readers (except my BFF who laughs along with me during the most heart-wrenching love scenes) my secret is safe! That said, you can imagine how much I LOVE The Titanic, especially the car scene…oh Leo how I love thee. Oops, where was I? Oh yes…so when I read the dustcover, I hoped this could be a love affair to rival that of Jack and Rose. Plus I love late-Edwardian era fashions, so how could I go wrong?

What I liked:  Surprisingly, I found myself somewhat interested in the post-sinking events– from the Senate hearings to the investigative journalism to the shakedown of blackmailing bullies.  I especially enjoyed watching the high and mighty Lady Duff get roasted by the press. One of the many rich first-class passengers who commandeered the lifeboats, this wretched woman and her equally repugnant husband refused to make room for drowning victims on their half-empty lifeboat. Although the author tried to paint a softer side to this character, I couldn’t let my heart bleed over her dwindling business and sad backstory.

What irked me: The main character.  Sorry Kate Alcott fans, but the leading lady is BORING! No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t connect with her. I admire her drive to become the next Coco Chanel, but other than that, she lacked personality. I need my main characters to not only be strong and brave, but also quirky and fun. Yes, toward the end Tessa grew a pair, but until the last few chapters, she just couldn’t make up her mind about anything and just seemed to go with the flow. More than anything I wanted to see her jump on a white horse and join the women’s suffrage movement, which she casually observed throughout the book, but she seemed to be too wrapped up in herself to do anything interesting.

The romance:  While aboard the doomed vessel, Tessa crosses paths with two love interests: A sweet-natured sailor with a crooked smile and a talent for wood witling, and a gallant Chicago tycoon. If she chooses the rich guy, she’ll be set for life. But if she falls for the penniless “village boy,” she might as well kiss her future as the next hotshot dressmaker goodbye. If you’re familiar with this setup, I’m sure it’ll come to no surprise which one she’ll choose. To be honest, if you want a good Titanic romance, go watch James Cameron’s masterpiece. Yes, there is some romance in this book, but Tessa doesn’t really get on the ball until the very end.

This book is best pared with: A piping-hot mug of cinnamon spice tea and a dainty high tea stand filled with colorful petit fours.

Overall assessment: History buffs are sure to be enthralled by the author’s well-researched depictions of the post-Titanic sinking aftermath. Romance fans, however, are likely to be rather disappointed by the conventional love story. I do have to hand it to the author for planting some deep thoughts in my head.  This book will really make you think about human instincts, and how our actions during a fight-or-flight situation can define who we are and what we stand for. If we make the wrong life-altering decision under duress, can we learn to live with ourselves?

Review: Under Suspicion by Hannah Jayne

 In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist: As a human immune to magic, Sophie is an anomaly at the Underworld Detection Agency, a governmental agency of sorts that helps paranormal beings blend into San Francisco society. Supernatural hijinks ensue when her alimony-seeking client, who happens to be a fire-breathing dragon, goes missing.  Soon more underworld creatures disappear – and it seems as though a slayer is on the loose. When someone – or something – tries to take Sophie out with a wooden stake and silver bullets, she suspects that something far more sinister than a renegade Van Helsing is at work. And if she doesn’t nab the killer soon, all hell will break loose – literally! Why are Sophie’s friends and clients caught in the killer’s crosshairs? And why are the vampires unaffected? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

 The romance:  As with most paranormal romances, Sophie is torn between two supernatural hotties: A handsome fallen angle Alex Grace, and a hot guardian angel Will Sherman. In the last book I was really rooting for Alex, who may or may not have a hidden agenda for wooing Sophie. But in this new installment, she’s spending a lot more quality time with Will and the romantic tension is really heating up! For more about this yummy English gent, stay tuned for my next book boyfriend pick of the week. 

Why it’s unique:  The humor. A lot of the mainstream zany sleuth mysteries are a little too contrived. Usually these types of books (which are about as funny as an episode of Full House) involve the requisite zany granny, an eccentric sidekick and a snarky protagonist. But in this series, the humor isn’t forced. The author clearly has a silly side and it comes through in Sophie’s goofy antics.

The best friend: I would be remiss not to talk about Nina, an uber-sexy vampire who’s always up for a new adventure. Even though she’s older than Hugh Heffner, she can be totally clueless about men. In this book, she falls for a famous author who makes a killing off of proving the nonexistence of supernatural beings – including vampires! Despite this minor hangup, Nina is smitten with the fame-obsessed author and decides to write a vampire mystery series of her own. The author does a fine job sprinkling her stories with these funny little subplots without getting too silly. I giggled and snorted so much – my fellow gym rats must think I have Turrets.

The setting: Of all places to set an urban fantasy, San Francisco is the best! The underworld of supernatural beings can easily blend in with the diverse mix of yuppies, hippies, hipsters, eccentric artists and drifters. Hmm..sounds a tad bit like Austin. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get to explore this wonderfully eclectic city and check out some of Sophie’s hangouts like the Fog City Diner (also featured in my favorite comedy, So I Married and Axe Murderer)  and China Town.

Emma Stone would make a fabulous Sophie!

Favorite character:  Of all the fantastical creatures in this book, my favorite character is Sophie. Normally the secondary characters (the quirky best friends especially) are my faves, but Sophie’s hilarious neuroticisms really won me over. Plus she’s from my generation, so I could totally relate to her mid-90s high school memories of Geo Storms and BUM sweatshirts.  With her sardonic wit, fearless attitude and unruly red hair, I couldn’t help but picture Emma Stone as Sophie.

This book is best paired with: A stiff Bloody Mary and a swinging hammock.

Overall assessment: Once again Hannah Jayne delivers a tightly-plotted mystery jam-packed with humor, hijinks and off-the-wall characters. She does a fine job keeping the pace and tying all the plot threads together in the final pages.  Fans of Juliet Blackwell, Charlaine Harris and Victoria Laurie can’t go wrong with a Hannah Jayne mystery.  Can’t wait to sink my teeth into Sophie’s next big adventure!

Short & Sweet Sunday: The Hollow by Jessica Verday

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! For more of my “Short & Sweet” reviews, go here.  

The gist:  (From Goodreads) After the death of her best friend, Abbey feels abandoned and alone. She tries distracting herself by creating perfumes, but true distraction comes in the form of Caspian, the “total hottie” she meets in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Abbey quickly falls head over heels in love with Caspian, although she struggles with his mysterious and elusive demeanor. Just as things seem like they are back to normal, Abbey makes two discoveries: she finds Kristen’s secret diary that reveals she was hiding something from Abbey, and she learns Caspian’s true identity. On the verge of a breakdown, Abbey’s world slowly begins to unravel when she realizes Sleepy Hollow may hold more truth than legend.

Why I read it: I’m a HUGE fan of Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so any book or movie that touches on this Halloweenie masterpiece really sparks my interest. How could I resist a gothic mystery involving a creepy cemetery, an alluring ghost boy and the headless horseman?!? It’s like this book was tailor made just for me!

The perks: Despite its many flaws, this is a fun little Halloween read. The new spin on the legend of the headless horseman is entertaining…although Washington Irving is most likely rolling around in his grave. I liked the spooky atmospheric graveyard, where Abbey would spend her days reminiscing about the good times she had with her best friend. Apparently the two weirdos liked to hang out at Washignton Irving’s grave, where they would tell ghost stories about the Headless Horseman and giggle about boys.

The drawbacks: The love connection between Abbey and Caspian seemed forced. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel the heat radiating off of these two star-crossed lovers. They’re just so nice and sweet and polite …yawn. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it felt like the author wasn’t really feeling it, but she had to fuse them together to appease her swoony teenage readers. While I’m at it, I should also add that the editor should have been more heavy-handed with the red pen. The story would have moved along at a much quicker pace if it wasn’t bogged down with superfluous details about Abbey’s day-to-day motions like mixing scents, organizing her uncle’s office or working on a science fair project. As for the mystery, Abbey’s obsession with Caspian eclipses her interest in her friend’s disappearance. If you’re looking for clues and red-herrings you won’t find them in this book.

This book is best pared with: A steaming mug of apple cider and a glowing jack-o-lantern. I know it’s crazy to be thinking of Halloween in April, but what can I say?  I’ll say it loud, I’m a Halloween freak and I’m proud!

Soundtrack pick: Paramore–Haunted

Overall: To quote Randy Jackson: It was just OK for me, dog. I’m not itching to jump right into the next book, but I’ll probably get around to it. The author really didn’t crack open the case of the missing best friend until the very last chapter, so I’m hoping she’ll get down to business in the next book. Plus I want to figure out what the heck is going on with Caspian’s inexplicable link to the Headless Horseman!

Short & Sweet Sunday: Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs

 
In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! For more of my “Short & Sweet” reviews, go here. 
 

The gist: This fun little mystery series revolves around an animal-loving ex-cop named Dixie Hemingway (no relation to you-know-who).  Haunted by the tragic death of her husband and daughter, Dixie abandons her life as a sheriff’s deputy and starts her own pet-sitting business.  Everyone thinks she’s crazy anyway –  so why not? What could go wrong taking care of fuzzy four-legged puppies and kitties? Oh you’d be surprised!

When Dixie takes Big Bubba, a smart-mouthed parrot with a big vocabulary, to the vet, she meets a distressed teen in the waiting room. Her father just ran over a poor little bunny rabbit and could care less about his daughter’s tears.  Dixie soon discovers the mysterious teen is in a heap load of trouble when a band of knife-wielding teenage gangsters come looking for her. Why is this girl so afraid of her father? And why is she hiding out at Siesta Key’s most posh seaside hotel? Dixie is determined to find out!

The plot thickens when Dixie’s old high school friend, Maureen, comes out of the woodwork. Her millionaire husband has been kidnapped and she needs Dixie to help her deliver the $1 million ransom. Even though Maureen dropped her like a hot potato after she struck gold with a moneygrubbing sugar daddy,  Dixie can’t help but to rescue a friend in need. Soon she finds herself caught up in a tangled web of druglords, extortion, murder and mayhem!

What surprised me: At first glance, these books look like your typical fun and fluffy chick lit mysteries filled with zany stiletto-wearing sleuths, cute fuzzy animals and steamy romance. But these pet-sitter mysteries are much heavier than you’d think.  Dixie deals with some serious issues – parental abandonment, grief and loss to name a few – and finds solace in the quiet comfort of animals. Despite all the shit she’s been through, she carries on and slowly mends her wounds in each book.

Why I love Dixie Hemingway:  Where do I begin? I love everything about her! Being the crazy cat lady that I am, I immediately fell in love with this character when she professed her passion for all things feline. I’m not sure if the author did this intentionally, but it seems like Dixie is very catlike herself. She loves looking at water, but hates getting in it. She practically purrs when she eats her brother’s luscious cooking. She’s a creature of habit, something I can totally understand.  And when someone sets her off – she roars like a lioness!  Dixie is a force to be reckoned with, and I commend her for her tenacity and strength!  

The setting: Blaize Clement does an amazing job describing Siesta Key’s lush landscape. The ethereal sunsets, the sandy beaches, the wildlife –all captured beautifully in her eloquent prose. Boy I sure am craving a key lime pie right about now!

This book is best paired with: A sparkling mimosa, flip flops and an ocean view. Don’t have an ocean view? No problem, I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Will I read another book by this author again? You betcha! I’m hooked on this series. But  sadly Blaize Clement is no longer with us, so I’m going to slowly savor each of her books. Total bummer, I know. But here’s some good news, her son is writing the next two installments, so we can look forward to a couple more Dixie Hemingway adventures. For more about this amazing author, read this write-up in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Short & Sweet Sundays: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

  In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! For more of my “Short & Sweet” reviews, go here. 

The gist: The story centers around Diana Bishop, a history professor and powerful witch who lives in denial of her heritage. While conducting research in Oxford’s world-famous Bodleian Library, she inadvertently calls up “Ashmole 782,” a manuscript believed to contain the secrets of all creation. Coveted for centuries by the underworld of witches, demons and vampires, the secrets within the book could do some serious damage. Soon the supernatural baddies come out of the woodwork to confiscate the book.

Enter Mathew Clairmont, a blood-sucking geneticist and all-round hottie (think Edward Cullen with a Ph.D.). Although witches and vampires are not allowed to comingle, he finds himself bewitched by Diana’s beauty and charms. Unable to resist her tantalizing scent (hmm… sounds like another vampire I know), he swoops in to save her from the evildoers. Their alliance violates an ancient contract, but they forge onward in the hopes of being the first to discover the secrets contained in Ashmole 782.

Thoughts on character development: No matter how hard I tried to like Diana, I just couldn’t. I was turned off from the get-go when she smugly pronounced, “What got me away from Madison was my intellect.” Ick! There’s nothing I loathe more than an intellectual snob! And much like Bella (yep, I went there!) she’s just an empty vessel without the love of her vampire soul mate. The inner feminist in me just wants to scream, “Come on girl, get a life and stop blithering about your undying love!” She’s completely wrapped up in herself and has no interesting quirks, friends or interests – outside of rowing and alchemy research of course.

As for Mathew, he’s the textbook definition of a Harlequin romance hero: overly sensitive, attentive and always ready to put his life at risk to save his ladylove. Basically, he’s a woman’s definition of the perfect man. This is what really irks me about romance novels! Call me crazy, but I like a guy with some typical man-flaws like fear of commitment or belching in public. Take Damon from “The Vampire Diaries” for example. He’s a typical male with a serious attitude problem, but a total softy on the inside. When Elena brings out his inner teddy bear, the romantic tension really sizzles! I’m sorry, but how many of you really got excited about the sweet and loving Stefan? BORING!

In the next book, which involves Mathew and Diana’s first foray into time travel, I hope to see more of Baldwin, Mathew’s bad-boy brother. He’s hot, he’s angry, and he has some serious bloodlust issues, especially for Diana’s magical witch blood. I know love triangles are getting clichéd, but I would really love to see some romance brewing between these two magical creatures!

What I liked: I have to hand it to the author, she has a knack for creating spooky atmosphere. If your pulse flutters at the thought of creepy old libraries, French castles and descents into dark forests by moonlight, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Despite her flaws, which I’m sure she’ll smooth out in her next installment, the author is a truly gifted writer.

What irked me: With proper editing, this mammoth book could have been easily condensed into 300 pages or less. The drawn-out scenes of Diane drinking tea, thinking about drinking tea, rowing down the river and doing yoga really bogged down the story. Oh and don’t even get me started on the excruciatingly long descriptions of DNA analysis – I get it, Deborah, you’re super smart!

Most memorable scene: I hate to sound like such a snoot, but OMG this book could have done without the vampire/witch/demon yoga sessions. I get that the author is a big fan of the new agey healing powers of yoga, but come on! I couldn’t keep a straight face when she so eloquently described the supernatural beings harmoniously practicing yoga in Mathew’s opulent mansion. If this book hit the big screen, I can already see SNL and Jay Leno mocking this ludicrous scene!

My response to the critics: Most of the reviewers claim this first-time novelist blatantly stole from Stephanie Meyer’s and JK Rowling’s playbooks. But is that such a bad thing? Readers LOVE the mystery of Harry Potter’s past, and the star-crossed-lover drama between Edward and Bella. So why not borrow and build upon these intriguing storylines? And might I add that fans of that old TV series “Roswell” can attest to the fact that Stephanie Meyer used that show as a template for her Twilight series.

Will I read the next two installments in this trilogy? Eh…probably. All things considered, this is a solid paranormal thriller. Yes, it dragged quite a bit, but I feel that the story just started to cook with some grease right at the very end. If I want to get fancy with analogies, I’d say this book is the literary equivalent of a Dave Mathews CD. It’s good quality stuff, but I’m not counting down the days until the next album drops. Sure, I own a Dave Mathews CD, but I don’t have it stored in my favorite playlist – and I certainly don’t know all the lyrics by heart.  Anne Rice’s vampire books, however, are right on par with my Dixie Chicks obsession!

This book is best paired with: A hearty glass of wine, a purring cat and a crackling fireplace. If you’re an apartment dweller like me, you should download a virtual fireplace app!

Short & Sweet Sundays: How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner

Hooray for Sundays! In honor of this blissful day, I bring you a short and sweet review of Penny Warner’s How to Party With a Killer Vampire.

The gist: Presley Parker is an up-and-coming party planner for San Francisco’s A-list community. She’s what I would call the J.B. Fletcher of party planning. Whenever she makes an appearance at a black-tie affair, somebody inevitably drops dead.  This can be bad for business, so she must resolve the mystery before more partygoers are permanently knocked off the guest list! The mystery begins when a parkour athlete is found dead in the local cemetery, which just happens to be the venue for Pressley’s next big shindig. In case you’re not privy to this new-wave sport, it involves bouncing and flipping off of buildings and stairwells with no shoes. Weird, I know. 

Things go from bad to worse when Pressley stumbles upon the body of a party-crashing celebrity reporter at a lavish movie wrap-up party in a spooky graveyard. In true Murder She Wrote fashion, the murder takes place right after a heated argument between a big-time producer and the wannabe Perez Hilton.  Of course the producer is the most obvious suspect, but there’s plenty of shady characters with ample motives to knock off the reporter. Could it be the scandalous Hollywood starlet who’s desperately trying to keep her skeletons in the closet? Did her protective celebrity boyfriend resort to murder to keep their affair a secret? Or is it the crazy gun-toting cemetery groundskeeper? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

The love interest: Now this is interesting, the leading man in this series is an ex-cop turned crime-scene cleaner. Okay, so maybe a man who comes home smelling like entrails isn’t exactly a turn-on, but this guy is H-O-T and he can be downright resourceful when Presley needs to hunt down clues.

Most unique aspects: Although this is a fun and frothy mystery series, the author touches on two heavy-duty issues: ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease.  This is the first time I’ve ever encountered a main character in a chick lit novel with ADHD. Considering that millions of Americans (the Facebook generation especially) struggle to focus on a single topic for longer than a millisecond, ADHD is indeed an interesting element to weave into a story.  

The mother/daughter dynamic in this story is also very touching. Presley’s mother, a former party-planner and Hollywood socialite, has an acute case of Alzheimer’s disease. A big chunk of Presley’s party planning commission goes toward her mother’s ultra-expensive rest home.  Pretty depressing right? Wrong! The mom actually has a nice little life at the old folks’ home, which she considers to be a posh resort. Plus her dear daughter takes her out on “adventures” whenever she’s hosting glitzy red-carpet affairs. The mom makes a great sidekick, even though she tends to wander off when Presley is interrogating suspects.  

Added bonuses: Each chapter opens with a fun little party-planning tip for vampire-infused fiestas. Plus, Pricilla’s mom provides readers with some cool nuggets of information about the history of San Francisco. Here’s my favorite tip:

“Make your next Ladies’ Night a Vampire Party with a romantic twist to celebrate a birthday girl, bachelorette, or bride-to-be. Fill the room with black and red balloons, scented candles, and posters of Edward and Jacob from the Twilight series. Then have a vampire stripper make a surprise appearance.”

This book is best paired with: A champaign cocktail and leopard-printed fuzzy slippers.

Overall: If you like cozy mysteries with a lot of sass, great dialogue and a plot that flies – you’ll love this charming series. Presley is an endearing heroine and her rollicking adventures around San Francisco are entertaining. This is my first Party-Planning Mystery – and it certainly won’t be the last! I’m looking forward to the next book set in California’s wine country!

Short and Sweet Sundays: Death Comes to Pembereley by P.D. James

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

The gist: Happily married and blessed with two perfect children, the Darcys are the picture of domestic bliss. But all is threatened when the Darcy’s and their dinner guests see a runaway chaise barreling toward the front door on a dark and stormy night. Lo and behold, Elizabeth’s estranged sister, Lydia, topples out of the coach screaming that her husband has been murdered.  Colonel Fitzwilliam (a pompous family friend and relative) and Darcy go to investigate in Pemberley’s wild woods and find the body of Wickham’s friend, Captain Denny. They also find Wickham covered in blood screaming, “He’s dead – my one and only friend is dead and it’s my fault!”

Anyone who’s read Pride and Prejudice knows Whickham is a gold-digging scoundrel, but could he really be capable of cold-blooded murder? What caused Captain Denny to run deep into the Pemberley woods on a cold, blustery night? And Why did Colonel Fitzwilliam suddenly decide to take a solitary late night ride the night of the murder?

The pros: P.D. James clearly knows how to write historical fiction. She expertly captures the stodgy language and the genteel English mannerisms.  She clearly did her homework on old timey police work, which can be interesting for those who like procedural thrillers. And – oh my god – this author is 91 years old! I give her mad props for maintaining a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.

The cons: Let me start off by saying that I am by no means a Jane Austen purist. That said, I have to admit I had quite a few hangups with this mystery. For one, it didn’t feel like a mystery at all – a courtroom drama perhaps – but not a classic whodunit.  I was expecting our beloved Elizabeth Darcy to put on her gumshoes and crack the case, yet she barely had a role in this book at all. The inquest was tedious. Plus I had to force myself to concentrate on all the long-winded descriptions of characters and convoluted backstories.  Listening to this on audiobook proved to be a big challenge!

Thoughts on character development:  Those devoted to Jane Austen would probably agree that Elizabeth Darcy is one of the most dynamic female leads in literary history. She’s beautiful, smart, sharp-tongued and fiercely independent. Her love-hate relationship with Darcy in Pride and Prejudice had hopeless romantics like me totally enthralled. But in this book, she’ a shadow of the girl she once was. In fact, she’s dull.  Rather than speaking her mind and taking risks to find the killer, she spends her time fretting about appearances and making sure the Pemberley Estate is in order. Boring!

Why I chose this book: I seem to be going through a Jane Austen phase, so the timing of a post-Pride and Prejudice mystery couldn’t have been better. Plus the cover is really cool!

This book is best paired with: A very quiet room and a spot of peppermint tea.

Would I read another book by this author?
Eh…probably not.