Book Review: A Pretty Mess by Carla Caruso
I was quite excited to receive this book via Net Galley, because I really enjoyed Second Chance by the same author. In fact I enjoyed Second Chance so much that my expectations might have been too high for A Pretty Mess and, as a consequence, I’ve struggled with this review.
I just have to come right out and say, however, that this title doesn’t have the instant appeal of that quirky time travel romance. This book started out promising, but I feel like it lost its way in the romance department somewhere along the line.
Our heroine, Celeste Pretty (I love the clever title!), has just started up her own business as a personal organiser and landed a contract with a famous fitness guru. At the Lorna Jane wannabe’s house she meets building contractor, Lenny. Celeste and Lenny are instantly attracted to each other, but their romantic plot lacks… Any real conflict perhaps? As a result, their scenes become a little bland after a while. Lenny’s conflict/reasoning for not becoming seriously involved with Celeste gets annoyingly immature after hearing it a few times. Celeste’s reservations are a little more interesting, and I do respect the way Caruso gave Celeste a background that made her almost-OCD and judgmental personality realistic, but I also still found Celeste a little grating towards the back half of the book.
Surprisingly, also around the half way mark, the romantic plot is put on the back burner to make way for the ‘mystery’ plot. I was only thinking recently about the lack of Australian writers in the cosy mystery market. This book fits nicely into this very popular niche, I believe. It ticks all the boxes of the usual ingredients of that genre, including the more interesting and quirky minor characters, the basic crime that’s easily solved, and a cat!
If I was marketing the book, I would have definitely pushed the cosy mystery tag, instead of the chick-lit/romance (that I assumed I would read from the cover). If I had to judge it as a cosy mystery alone, I would have felt satisfied, but judging it as a romance, I can only award it 3/5.
Since posting this review, I’ve discovered that this is in fact the first in a series of cosy mysteries books ‘starring’ Celeste Pretty. The ebook I received had no blurb and I like to avoid spoilers on the internet, so I did not realise this as I was reading. I still say the cover (the only hint I had whilst reading) is more chick lit romance than cosy mystery. ‘An Astonvale novel’ also gives me no clue. I’d suggest the publishers change that to ‘An Astonvale cosy mystery’ to make this clearer. As an introduction to the characters, it is still only 3/5, but I will admit I will probably buy the next in the series, just to see how Flip and Betty-Lou are getting on.