Don't let the cover fool you on this one--it's no sugar-sweet chick-lit novel about a group of ladies talking about obituaries. A group of ladies talking about obituaries does appear, but they're not really the focus. No, the focus is something completely different--a girl who just moved to her grandfather's home town to deal with his estate following his death, and who finds that her family history there is a little darker than she thought...and that it's haunting her to this day.
This was a great book. The main character is Lila, who takes on the task of renovating her grandfather's long-abandoned home while staying with her great aunt Ada. The longer she stays, the more involved she becomes with the town's other inhabitants including Gladys, one of Ada's best friends; Max, Gladys' grandson, and his quirky daughter Juniper; Asher, the handsome cinnamon-scented lawyer who offers to help Lila with her grandfather's house and estate; and a host of other minor characters who all lend Auburn its small-town charm. But beneath all the sweet cakes and savory "Rocky Mountain oysters," there's a bit of menace about Lila's stay in Auburn, and when someone else turns up dead, it looks like Lila is in far more trouble than a few rusty pipes and bad wires might merit.
Randall did a great job with the town of Auburn, making it seem like a real, charming place--though it came across to me as more southern that midwestern. Still, with church auctions and harvest festivals, Auburn was a cute place full of quirky residents, and felt very genuine. The characters had their own quirks and personalities and while not all of them fulfilled vital plot functions, none of them felt outright superfluous, which can be a problem with minor characters. As it was, Auburn felt very complete, and its presence went toward motivating Lila to stay, rather than just serving as a random place in the "stories have to take place somewhere, so this one will take place here" vein.
I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I don't want to spoil anything, but there were a few slight (SLIGHT!) issues I had with this one that I think I can touch on pretty easily:
-It needs a few more line edits. There are a bunch of cases of missing quotation marks, line breaks that make things more confusing, etc. that could easily be done away with, but overall it's very well edited for a self-published title.
-I didn't really see a point in Erica's character. I think tension with Max and Lila could have been built very easily without her coming back into the picture, and her involvement in the plot came across as a bit contrived.
-There's an element of supernatural here. I didn't dislike it, but it did seem a bit out of place in the story because there's really never any explanation given for it. I think this could have either been worked in better, or done away with entirely--the plot could have easily worked without a supernatural element if other bits had been tweaked just a tiny bit.
However, I would like to note that these are very minor complaints, and I really, really enjoyed this title. Randall has a companion novel out, The Stranger's Obituary, that I will definitely pick up the next time I fall into a reading slump, because I have no doubts it will be just as good as this one.
A very solid 4 stars out of 5.