SASSY CINDERELLA AND THE VALIANT VIGILANTE
Ruby Taylor, the "sassy Cinderella" of this book's title, is certainly opinionated and determined. An adjunct English instructor at her local college, Ruby is a new Christian who finds herself repeating a self-written mantra of "Jesus, mocha, and chocolate" to remind herself where she finds safety and comfort whenever she's rattled. She's got a lot to be rattled about. Aat thirty-one, she's living with her mother (another fairly new Christian), who spent years in prison for embezzlement, "so I figure she owes me a few years of mothering." Her brother Jimmy suddenly pops up after a long absence to live with the two women, and meanwhile, the professor Ruby was hired to replace turns up dead.
Ruby starts to dig into the death of Theodore Aldridge, but finds herself constantly running afoul of her ex-boyfriend, local cop Wesley Burgess. He's supposed to be the "valiant vigilante," I guess --- but it's really Ruby who decides to exercise vigilante justice while looking in to Aldridge's relationship with his ex-wife, children, lover, and an odd student whom she herself now instructs, and who won't leave her alone.
The more Ruby interferes with the murder investigation, the more she and Wesley interfere with each other --- and since both of them have renewed their commitment to living by God's rules, they are wary of heating up a relationship they don't want to consummate. To complicate matters further, six-foot Ruby wears her newfound faith as awkwardly as she does her clothes (one memorable ensemble includes moon boots, a lilac down coat, and mismatched mittens). She's constantly making faux pas with her colleague Donita, an eccentric but very intelligent PhD who makes Ruby feel insecure both professionally and personally as Donita rebuffs Ruby's attempts to introduce her to Christ over a bowl of M&Ms.
Unfortunately, Ruby's ultimate lesson is more sickeningly sweet than a vat full of chocolate: the office cleaning lady, Celeste, has Down's Syndrome, and after a session of singing "Jesus Loves Me," Ruby realizes that Celeste's simple faith is more potent than her own. I didn't buy this any more than I bought Ruby and Wesley's ridiculously mangled dates --- but I did buy the idea that Ruby knows she doesn't belong in academia, and I did buy Ruby and Wesley's knowledge that their courtship is more about hearts and souls than hands and lips.
I also bought Dunn's ability to pace a murder mystery; the plot elements relating to Aldridge's murder, murderer, and motive were very well done (and it seems I'm now catching on to the author's taste for alliteration, too). One of the funniest things in the book is how Wesley, cop of the beat, nearly always fails to show up in time to save Ruby. (Her mother has an excellent scene where she does so, however.) This book goes down as quickly as chocolate, as smoothly as a mocha, and leaves more than a lingering taste for Jesus --- just the thing for a comforting, fun read.
--- Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick
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