I've been hoping for a while to get some photos up of the fantastic indie bookstores I visited at Thanksgiving, but in the meantime, I'll start review the slew of Cozy Mysteries I picked up. If you are not familiar with Cozies, go back to my previous post "How Female Friendly is Your Cozy?" for a quick summary of the genre.
Charlaine Harris is known best for her Southern Vampire novels (also known as the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries) which are now the basis for HBO's True Blood. Harris also writes some non-supernatural cozy series, and I've recently been hooked by her diminutive librarian-turned-sleuth Aurora Teagarten. Sadly, the first books in the series I read (the first, second and fourth of the eight book run) were so good that I enthusiastically passed them on to other readers without pausing to review them. I'm trying to fill in the gaps now, and recently read books five and eight: Dead Over Heels and Poppy Done to Death.
In Dead Over Heels, Aurora is enjoying married life when the body of Detective Sergeant Jack Burns is thrown from a helicopter over her property. When other people who she's had run-ins with start to turn up dead, Aurora and her friend and bodyguard Angel need to figure out who's trying to get their attention.
In Poppy Done To Death murder is a family affair. Aurora is on the verge of being inducted into the Uppity Women's Book Club when her step-sister-in-law is brutally murdered in her own backyard. Now Aurora has to fend off society gossip about her family while trying to find a killer and take care of a surprise guest who needs her help.
Characters: A+ One of the best reasons to read the books (much like Sookie Stackhouse's series) is the main character. She's feisty, she's down-to-earth and she's stubborn. Again, like Sookie, Aurora is from a long line of well-mannered Southern women, and her more outspoken tendencies are always a bit at war with the older, more traditional women around her. Aurora's self-depreciating asides and her common sense, no-nonsense attitude make the first-person narrative sparkle.
Plot development: A Harris is a strong plotter and her stories move along at a good pace. Readers like me who don't really care about the romance aspect of the storyline will enjoy the very secondary nature of those plots. The ongoing sub-plots of Aurora's young half-brother and her library job both work well to support the main plot and provide a cast of likable, fairly realistic characters.
Romance: B The only truly negative thing I can say about Harris' books is that her portrayals of romantic moments, and of relationships in general feels somewhat perfunctory and stiff. Aurora is far to independent a lady to ever focus fully on the men in her life, and it sometimes seemed to me that to obligatory romance sub-plot was placed in the book just to satisfy someone's idea of what needs to be in a cozy. Harris is wise to allow most of the more intimate moments to occur off-page as Aurora's wide appeal does not (in my humble opinion) extend to reading about her more personal moments.
Accuracy:A- This is my personal favorite aspect of reviewing any cozy mystery. I find that as a reader, I am jarred by a lack of realism in character reactions and in work-place events. I suppose this says a lot about me in some way, but regardless, there's nothing as distracting as character who runs a business but never seems to work, for example. Harris does a respectable job in most cases (you can't fault a cozy for having a few over-the-top stereotypical baddies, it's part of the genre) in character development, and while there are some questionable moments in the library scenes, Harris gets points for adding conflicts over scheduling, seniority and staffing levels as well as mentioning some of the more colorful characters typical to any library or bookstore. If you've ever worked in a library, you may have more to add on this topic than I can, but I was fairly satisfied with the level of accuracy.
Thanks for reading!