Fill-in-the-blanks Novels

My mother-in-law once told me that she’d like to try her hand at some pottery. Ceramics were quite popular at the time and she had thought of trying that, but she decided, “Ceramics is too much like a cake mix: add water; beat; pour into pan. The decoration is the only difference. I want to actually design something.”

Not long ago I got a list of several new books; among them was a blurb for a new cozy mystery. I read it and thought, “This sounds just like the write-up for dozens of other books I’ve seen.” I have to think of Mom’s comment about ceramics. The decorations change: names and professions vary; relationship to the detective and to the victim varies. Otherwise the blurbs are interchangeable.

Ditto with most romance stories written these days. (Another topic for another time.)

Just fill in the blanks and go:

Main character __________ (choose name, Nikki/Mikki/Kelli, etc)
a successful ___________ (profession, lawyer/ chef/baker/wedding planner, etc.)
discovers/hears about her ________ (client/ boss/ ex/ competitor/ neighbor)
_______ buried/floating/scrunched, in/at/on/into a ________.
Now she must team up with __________ lawyer/ male friend/ boss/ ex
_______ (name — Jake being the most popular by far),
to solve the mystery of who killed ______ (victim’s name)
before Detective ______  (name) a drop-dead gorgeous hunk/ grouchy bumbling misogynist arrests ___________ her/her BFF/her ex/her new boyfriend for the crime.

Our MC knows the detective’s set his sights on an innocent party, but someone has done it. So she must become an amateur sleuth (if she isn’t already) and find the guilty one before her efforts make her the criminal’s next target.

Like Mom with her preference for pottery over ceramics, I’m one who doesn’t care much for plots all coming from the same mold. I like originality.

I like stories with believable characters living their lives, where the crime (or romance) isn’t the be-all and end-all, the only focus of the main character. Where she has some life apart from interrogating suspects and ogling the hunky cop or irritating the grouchy one.

Another thing I applaud is a story with team work, rather than a one-woman show. And I dislike an amateur sleuth belligerently demanding answers from suspects — because it’s not believable. In real life people are going to clam up or blow up when pushed like that. Having suspects tell all under pressure may save a serious investigation, but it’s cheap melodrama; a writer sacrifices credibility.

That said, I plan to review some books I’ve read where the main characters lead interesting lives, that happen to include a mystery, a romance, or both. I’d like to lift out  some writers who, I feel, know their craft and avoid the stereotypes.

“Strawberry Cream Cupcake” Missing Ingredients

Book Review:
Strawberry Cream Cupcake & Murder
(A Dana Sweet Cozy Mystery)

By Ann S. Marie
National Bestselling Author
Indie Published

Recently dumped by her finace, Dana has inherited a cupcake cafe from her deceased Grandmother. She’s moving back to Berry Cove, Ontario, intending to turn this cafe into a profitable business again. We read very often in the first couple of chapters how the business was going under and Dana has to make a profit or lose her life savings. Readers are also told quite often how much she misses her grandmother. Most of this could be deleted or switched to the “show, don’t tell” technique.

This first book was a freebie, so I’m really looking a gift horse in the mouth. However, I’m not sure who appointed Ms Marie a national best-selling author. The structure of some sentences and wording of some phrases makes me suspect English isn’t her first language. For example:

— Dana couldn’t read any further. Heat rushed to her chest.

— “It’s not true,” Inga added with her thick Russian accent rolling her R, yet again.

— She noticed the detective glancing at her neck when she swallowed. He probably thought she was guilty of sin. Which, of course, she wasn’t. No where even close.

A few overly long sentences actually came off quite amusing:

— Her eyes were wide and her jaw fell open as she looked at Brad slumped over on his desk, a cup of coffee turned over, spilling on the side of the desk, and a half-eaten strawberry cream cupcake topped with a high frosting with a spoon dug into it from the Cozy Cupcakes Café right there by his left hand.

— But Katie had been such a darling sweetheart seeing how Dana had been pulling all-nighters just as she’d done back in college, getting the disastrous bookkeeping records straight that had been neglected since Nans passed away by her elderly accountant who had started to have trouble with his memory, locating receipts and his failing eyesight. Poor thing.

I did finish the story, but this isn’t what I’d call a reader-friendly mystery. Instead of clues being introduced so readers can try their hand at divining whodunit, in the last chapter Dana informs the suspect that she’s gone online and learned points of his/her personal history. She then rattles off a bunch of incriminating info and makes the accusation. Rather a letdown for the reader.

The potential is there for a good story, but there are too many flaws in the telling of it, IMO. Dana could be a more sensible, likeable character. She doesn’t come off as the type to manage a business, IMO. A seasoned editor could have improved this book A LOT. However, the writer has some real fans judging by the Amazon reviews — AND she’s achieved her dream of getting a cozy mystery series written. As long as you don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, practice should make perfect.

If you decide to give this writer a try, she has written seven books in the series. This first one is free on Amazon. (Note: Front cover designs and titles are similar to Joanne Fluke’s well known Hannah Swensen Mystery series, so don’t be confused.)