Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Red Mojo Mama, a contemporary romantic mystery with a paranormal twist by Kathy Lynn Hall, which I finished reading Sunday.
Characters: Lydia “Red” Talbot is the red-haired, 38-year-old owner of a newly inherited Central California mobile home park, left to her by her recently deceased Aunt Esther. Still mourning her husband Mac, dead for three years; as well as her aunt, Red narrates this story of new beginnings.
As Red tells the tale, we meet the denizens of the park and Nuggetville at the same time she does, and get treated to some nice character description. Here’s Faith, a resident of the park.
Faith struggled to smile without showing her lack of teeth. She obviously had dentures but had left them home for the afternoon. Her lips curled up in that odd way that lips do without teeth behind them for support. She had kinder eyes than old Ruthie, but she didn’t look much better. The hair was long, way too long for a woman her age, coal black except for the inch of white roots that started at her scalp, and pulled back into a ponytail except for a handful of strands that had escaped, and sprung out in all directions.
My own Aunt Gloria lived in a Southern California trailer park for some years, and I’m here to tell you, Kathy has nailed it.
It’s a romance, so of course there’s a handsome leading man, Joe. There are also bad guys, intent on making big bucks at the expense of the ordinary citizens. Kathy does a nice job of showing them all clearly through action, dialogue and description.
Plot: Taking a part-time job as reporter for Nuggetville’s weekly paper, Red discovers members of the town council attempting to aid a shady developer in swindling citizens out of their land. She tries to get to the bottom of it while handling trailer-park emergencies, a resurgent love life, and occasional visits from the ghost of her husband.
Setting: Red Mojo Mama takes place in The Springs Senior Mobile Home Park, and in and around the small fictional (I think) town of Nuggetville, Calif.
I drove down to Highway 26, knowing I was in the heart of the where it had all happened, the gold rush of the mid-19th century. After all, this was Calaveras County, the home of Mark Twain’s famous tale of the jumping frog contest. I expected history to splash me in the face, but instead found the highway strewn with rag-taggle little strip malls and houses converted into real estate offices or consignment shops. There was a decrepit old restaurant, with a packed parking lot called Sir Perks-A-Lot and a glorified hot dog stand called Dog Daze, “for those days when you just gotta have a dog.” Was this the town my auntie loved so?
While not spending a ton of time on settings, Kathy offers enough for flavor, and to orient readers in the story.
What I thought could’ve been done better: I got an early version of Red Mojo Mama — Kathy told me it would likely have some typos that she had since corrected. I tried to get a later version from Amazon — you can do that at Smashie, but despite my efforts, I couldn’t get the updated corrected version from ‘Zon.
So I was ready for typos — and there were a few, including a couple brief lapses from first-person into third, but not enough to harm my pleasure in reading the story. And I have seen books where there were enough to harm it.
I only mention it because I did find some typos, and if you have an older version of the book you may spot them too. If you’re going to buy the book off this review, I’m pretty sure you’ll find few if any.
My chief crit is totally subjective. I thought the paranormal scenes — Red’s visits with the ghost of her husband Mac — were superfluous. These scenes aren’t structural. That is, an editor could cut them out, and you’d still have a fine story. They are not integral to the story. In my opinion — and that’s all it is, just one reader’s opinion — if it doesn’t absolutely have to be in the story — if nothing hinges on it — then out it should go.
Instead of visits from a ghost husband, I think Kathy might have got more mileage from flashbacks to the actual marriage. Remembering scenes from her marriage to Mac that apply somehow or help guide her through current difficult circs accomplishes several things.
It can show why Kathy still misses him — and make us miss him too. It can also help us understand why Kathy is the way she is, and what drives her. And it would be less of a discordant paranormal note in a story that in every other respect is rooted in everyday reality.
I think Kathy may have missed an opportunity to add some emotional depth and do some showing rather than telling about how good the marriage was, and why she still mourns Mac so deeply after three years.
What I thought was good: I’ve already mentioned I liked Kathy’s character descriptions. Combined with action and dialogue, her characters seem real. She also has a nice touch with describing food:
Joe placed platters of homemade biscuits and Chicken Cheri, alongside a colorful rice and peppers dish in the center of the table which was barely large enough for four people. It was a feast. The chicken had been baked with and covered in deep purple cherries. The sauce smelled wonderful. I was sure I was drooling and double-checked the corners of my mouth, just in case.
I had to chuckle ~ what does a woman really like in a man? Cooking skills. In fact, I found the story’s female perspective to be one of the most interesting things about it:
Joe had smile on his face that I spent at least an hour analyzing. Was it just a friendly smile, like he would have given anyone else? Or was there a special meaning behind his eyes? I’m sure men would be absolutely amazed if they knew the gyrations women went through to try to figure out how men felt before they even knew themselves sometimes.
Kathy sprinkles bits of philosophy throughout the story, like this little gem:
Jeorgia Bettencourt, my favorite waitress from my former life, booked a flight to Acapulco, holed up for four weeks with a gigolo named Raoul and spent every bit of her tiny insurance policy. When it ran out she returned to the diner she and her husband George had owned and worked in for years, slinging hash and occasionally stopping in the middle of taking an order to drift away, smiling to herself. Huevos Rancheros, in particular, seemed to set her off.
The plot marches smartly along as Red goes through the records and confronts and provokes the bad guys. I have a journalism background so I appreciated the realism of Red’s research.
It’s Red herself who really makes Red Mojo Mama an entertaining read. Smart; courageous; impetuous; big-hearted, yet plagued with self-doubt; sentimental, yet hot-tempered; wanting to be loved, yet scared to make the jump — Kathy has gifted Red with a full, fine range of emotions and conflicts. That makes Red Mojo Mama something special, imho.
Overall: Red Mojo Mama is a lively character-driven romance, fanciful and romantic in some ways, down to earth in others, with touches of risk and danger. Filled with true-to-life characters and observations on human nature, Red Mojo Mama illustrates with moxie and panache the off-hand comment of ghost-husband Mac — that heaven is all around; you just have to see it.
Good job, Kathy!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!