Monday, September 7, 2009

Twin Reviews: Mystery on the Light Side

Jana DeLeon
Paranormal Mystery


Kathleeen Bacus
Comedic Mystery

1. Louisiana scientist helps newly-deceased and non-lamented ghost mother-in-law identify her murderer while trying to divorce her husband and remain unattracted to a colleague.

2. Iowa cowgirl/investigative reporter overhears plot to kill a spouse and spends her weight-watching cruise trying to foil it while choosing between two men pursuing her.

1. Vintage truck hovering in the air like the American cousin of Harry Potter's flying car, a title that points to quirky small town, wibbly wobbly font - for this reader's money, a fantastic cover.

2. Bikini top tossed (presumably) overboard by a female hand for seagull audience. Relevant in the sense that there is a bikini top scene included, though not in the 'naturist' lifestyle way the cover implies.

What Works

1. Apprentice Writer does not recall reading a story set in Louisiana before, and swampy landscape, flora, fauna and heroine's habit of going everywhere in her boat as naturally as AW would jump into her minivan were very appealing. The heroine is a woman torn in many directions: urgently wishing to divorce her whereabouts-unknown and good-for-nothing husband, irritated beyond belief that being able to see and hear her mother-in-law means being roped in to help her, grieving the loss of her cancer-stricken father, trying to be a supportive friend to the local sham-psychic, and resisting attraction to the zoologist who's commandeered space in her tiny bayou office. It's no easy balancing act and was generally well depicted, with all-too human frustrations and grouchiness sometimes taking their toll. Also nicely done were her gradual realizations that there there was more to her mother-in-law, her spouse, and her zoologist than she first gave credit for. Loved the name 'Mudbug'.

2. AW has never had the good fortune to go on a cruise. Being vicariously on board with the heroine, taking part in wacky holiday life, and going ashore at a beautiful Caribbean destination, were all fun.

What Doesn't
1. This book is the first of a series so not all questions are answered at the end, possibly leaving some readers with a sense of dissatisfaction. In terms of character interaction and motivation, the heroine seemed overly and undeservedly antagonistic to her eventual love interest for this reader, to the point that she questioned why he was so attracted to her. Similarly, she goes on and on (and on) about how worthless her flown husband is - begging the question of why she married him in the first place. There is eventually some degree of explanation, however by the time it rolled around it was too little, too late for this reader. Still, these points were not dealbreakers, and AW was easily able to chalk them up to human flaws of the character.

2. *Sigh* AW wanted to like this book. Travel, zaniness, eccentric primary and secondary characters - should have been right up her alley, right? But then, the puns and popular culture references and spun-out-till-they-were-paperthin similes and metaphors and word associations set in, and never, ever stopped. It is a very specific type of writing style, and one AW found confusing and tiring. Still, this could have been surmounted, if it hadn't been for additional factors such as the characters who always spoke of themselves in the third person (yes, AW is aware of the irony in making this statement! In her defence: a blogpost is not equivalent to a WHOLE BOOK), the tediousness of the heroine running back and forth literally and figuratively between two men for the length of the story, the heroine talking about having a 'blonde moment' (AW has never been naturally blonde or with assistance, but she can't help but think blond people deliberately perpetuating the dim stereotype can't really be a good thing), the weight-watching element never really figuring into the crime as far as this reader could tell and so feeling a bit gimmicky, and, the straw that broke the camel's back: The villain who goes on, paragraph after paragraph, explaining actions and motivations in minute detail to the heroine - rather than the heroine figuring out more of this for herself.

It is possible AW could have lived with all of this better if she had been with the series since the beginning. This story is the sixth, and maybe the heroine would have grown on her more naturally if she was aware of the full story. As things stand, AW is not much tempted to go back and start from the beginning. Gentle Reader - if you have read the first book(s) in this series and think AW should reconsider - please advise.

Jana Deleon and Kathleen Bacus both blog at 'Killer Fiction', together with fellow 'light mysterians' Christie Craig, Leslie Langtry, and Gemma Halliday. Having visited a number of grogs whose common theme remained a mystery (ha!) to this cyberspace traveller, it is a relief to find one where it's clear why the participants got together. Even if every author's personal style does not fit all readers' tastes, there is certainly enough variety available to find one or more who will entertain. Apprentice Writer will continue working her way through the members, shall look forward to Ms. DeLeon's next title ("Mischief in Mudbug") and peruse what Ms. Bacus' next title to see if it draws her in more.

But does it make you laugh?
Mildly (but that's OK!)
& Not Me Personally (YMMV)

1. For AW, the milder funny moments in 'Mudbug' (such as when the heroine has moments of insight at the absurdity of what she's doing in between all the running around) worked better than the ones that seemed to be intended as the 'big' ones (such as the way the mother-in-law's difficulties in learning how to be a ghost manifest themselves), which felt a bit like they were trying too hard. This reader recommends that others approach this book simply as a paranormal mystery, and enjoy the occasional amusing bit, rather than approaching it as a comedy per se.

2. The Calamity Jane series has a style which readers will immediately like or dislike, with no inbetween. AW suspects that those who like it, like it a LOT and would laugh long and often at the situations the heroine gets in. For this reader, it was all a bit too much, but since this is the sixth book in the series it means there are certainly many Calamity Jane afficionados out there. AW recommends the back blurb as a fairly reliable test on whether a reader will like the story or not, as it is quite typical of what's in store.


Thomma Lyn said...

I love the name "Mudbug", too, and the fact that the book is set in Louisiana ratchets up the appeal of the book, too. I always enjoy your reviews!

And "grogs"? Another wonderful word -- a variant of "blogs", I assume. ;-D

M. said...

Hi, TL -
sorry, I thought that was widely known on the net. Grog is indeed short for 'group blog'. Hey, I saw you've become a Goodreads author! Great!

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