A Pretty Mess by Carla Caruso

In brief: Celeste Pretty has just started her own business as a professional organiser. She’s delighted to win the job of organising celebrity Natalia Samphire’s new residence, but something wrong is happening there. Can Celeste find out what is happening with handsome builder Lenny?

The good: It’s fun and cosy.

The not-so-good: I would have liked to have seen more of Celeste’s friends as they’re fun and quirky, but perhaps this will happen in later books in the series.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Harper Collins for the eARC, as I’ve enjoyed previous books of Carla’s.

Year: 2014

Pages: 200

Publisher: Harper Collins

Setting: Adelaide, Australia

My rating: 7.5 out of 10

I adored Catch of the Day by Carla Caruso – it was sweet and funny in equal amounts. Naturally, I was excited to see she had a new book out, the first in a series starring Celeste Pretty, professional organiser and amateur sleuth. This is a slightly different direction – more cosy mystery with romantic elements than Catch of the Day, but I still enjoyed it.

Adelaide and South Australia seem to be an increasingly popular setting for romance stories these days, which suits me fine as I’m reasonably familiar with the state (mmm…Golden North ice cream). A Pretty Mess is set in the posh suburb of Astonvale. It’s a fictional place, but it can easily be imagined if you know Adelaide suburbs. Celeste has just started her own business as a professional organiser (she’s not on the best of terms with her former boss, who keeps popping up in Celeste’s life) and she’s thrilled to have landed a job with Natalia Samphire, who is taking Australia by storm with her ballet-based exercise routine, supplemented with tons of merchandise. Natalia needs her home and workspace sorted, and Celeste is determined to get it right, despite an unreliable, petulant assistant in Flip. Lenny is the builder on site finishing renovations and he and Celeste strike up a friendship. When Celeste notices Natalia under stress and the appearance of what seems to be blackmail notes, she and Lenny get on the case to find out what Natalia is hiding and who could be blackmailing her. There’s time for a little romance in between and meeting Celeste’s family, who are anything but dull.

This is a cosy mystery type of book. It’s quirky and funny and there are no life-threatening moments. I found it to be a light read, although it did take me time to warm to Celeste. I found it difficult to work out whether she was social climbing to Astonvale (e.g. the tennis and charity events), but when her background was explained, I thought that she was suffering from a bit of paranoia about her place in society. Lenny was quite different. He’s an honest, what you see is what you get character who is kind and very giving. I really disliked the character of Flip. Not only was she immature, but she felt like a waste of space. I hope she grows up in the following books in the series or gets her comeuppance!

I enjoyed the mystery – it wasn’t too heavy and perfect for reading on my commute (which happened to be extra-long at the time I was reading A Pretty Mess). It’s easy to remember where you left the book and continue. I didn’t guess the identity of the blackmailer and I did like how Natalia got one over them. The romance wasn’t prominent in this book. I did miss this a bit, but I liked how Lenny was able to be independent of the romance to help solve the mystery. I’m interested to know how Lenny and Celeste’s relationship progresses in future books (hang on to him Celeste, he’s a keeper). Celeste’s friends provided some light relief in the book, so I’d love to see more of them again (Betty-Lou, champion cate decorator was a scream).

While I enjoyed A Pretty Mess, I think it’s more of a cosy mystery than a romance novel. I wasn’t expecting this when I started to read it and it took me a little while to get my head around this. I am looking forward to seeing more Lenny in future books!

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