These books are as guilty a pleasure as a box of Russell Stover’s (especially if they’re full of Roman nougats). Death by Chocolate was the first book I’d read in this series (I’ve since read three), and they’ve all been entertaining.
Being a lover of Southern fiction, I was a bit disappointed these were set on the West Coast. However, I think if the author added a few extra details besides the types of flowers that grow in San Carmelita, California, and what the buildings look like (such as naming some actual haunts, fictional or otherwise), that might endear me more to that side of the country.
The way these books are “teased,” I was led to believe that food (especially the sweet kind) would play more of a central role, but sweets just happen to be what the main character likes to make and eat.
I love that the Savannah Reid character is a plus-sized woman who is comfortable in her own body (and is still attractive to other men); what’s more, I love that she happens to be single and not worried about old maidenhood or her biological clock ticking (even though the latter I could relate to). Her “partner-in-law,” Dirk Coulter, is a loveable curmudgeon without coming across as a stereotype. These two characters are well-developed, even though Savannah’s calling people “boy,” “girl,” and “sugar” and such can be a bit much sometimes (a la Paula Deen).
Savannah’s assistant, Tammy, is like a carbon copy of Nancy Drew; she’s rather bland and uninteresting, not to mention a bit of a broken record, calling everything Savannah eats “crap” because it isn’t healthy like her crap. But, people who are really into clean eating tend to be annoyingly vocal about it, so that’s realistic. Of all the five main characters, she adds the least but just enough.
Ryan and John are loveable–who wouldn’t want them for friends? Even though they’re almost too perfect, they are way more believable than Savannah’s siblings, who are more caricatures than characters; I think the author tries too hard to show that Savannah comes from a dysfunctional Southern family because damn, are her siblings over the top (a la Peg Bundy).
I do enjoy the references to Granny Reid (though she needs more unique adages). I hope I will read a book where Savannah goes back home to McGill, Georgia, and gets some “sage wisdom” (pardon the cliche) or unravels some interesting yarns.
As for Savannah’s cats, Diamante and Cleopatra (why do all single women have to have “fur babies,” though thank God, that phrase isn’t used in these books, though Savannah does refer to herself as their mother), they’re about as interesting as most cats (which is not very).
The author’s ideas of The Deep South seem to come from books and movies and her imagination rather from actually living there. I’ve read up on Sonja Massie/G.A. McKevett, and, according to several bios, she has never lived anywhere near the South. I think it takes an exceptionally skilled writer to be able to capture Southern culture without having lived in it (visiting doesn’t count), but maybe that’s why the books aren’t actually set in the South, so that was a good call.
If the author would keep Savannah’s relatives in Georgia (with the exception of Gran), the books would be better because those storylines add absolutely nothing. The real fun is in the relationships that Savannah has with her friends and the mysteries themselves, which are pretty good, even though they lack that “twist” element we Americans have almost come to expect (thanks a lot, O’Henry).
What I like about these books is that the quality of each one has been consistent. Maybe that’s because this is a series, but still, that’s important.
I hope Savannah will eventually stop being a doormat when it comes to her family (like kicking her sister out of her house for ordering porn and making her pay for it). This might be the reason why I don’t like her family in the books. Are they all as screwed up as Savannah isn’t? I guess I’ll find out when I catch up.
When it comes to Savannah’s parents, I’m finding it hard to believe that the same woman and the same man bred nine children, only to have them taken away by the State as being unfit. Usually, women like that have a ton of kids by different dads, so that’s one redeeming quality her parents had.
The profanity in these books is pretty mild, which I appreciate. These are stories I’d feel comfortable with my teenage daughter reading–when that time comes.