Tips for Living was my January selection from the Amazon First program and I delved into this light, quick-reading book with no hefty expectations, armed only the knowledge that it is a murder-mystery by a new novelist (although Shafransky has a background in screenwriting and therapy).
The premise of the book: Nora is a divorcee who moves to a small summer town outside the city post-divorce. The end of her marriage wasn’t pretty–her ex cheated on her and got the other (younger) woman pregnant and then left her to marry the former mistress. But she’s moved on and is determined not to be “the bitter ex.” She finds work and a comfortable rhythm of life in this small waterfront community until her ex and his new wife buy the largest house in town right down the road from her. And then get themselves killed in that house in a particularly brutal and seemingly-intentional way. All signs point to Nora and even she can’t convince herself that she is 100% innocent due to her history of sleepwalking (among other indications of her guilt). Most of the book is about Nora’s self-directed journey to find the killer and clear her name (and maybe find a little new love….).
Before selecting Tips for Living (the name is inspired by Nora’s column of the same name in the local newspaper), I read glowing reviews indicating that other readers “could not put it down” or were “on the edge of their seats” with regards to the murder-mystery plot line. While it didn’t find it that engrossing, I found Shafransky’s writing very approachable and easy to digest. Likewise, I didn’t know for most of the book whodunit (although I wasn’t really thinking it out too much, so if you’re more detective-minded than me, you might have guessed). Once the main character knows who the killer is, the book is close to done (for me at least) and it seemed that Shafransky made solid efforts to check all the boxes to finish up once the killer is revealed: make sure justice is served, give a wrap up of the main and supporting characters and give us a glimpse at their lives after the murder is solved. So if you like clean endings, Shafransky definitely delivers.
I think, for me, since I lean towards literary fiction or historical fiction more often than not, this book felt less “meaty” to me and more like entertainment. Kind of like watching a sitcom and having a sense of what’s going on, but not needing to pay super close attention because you kinda know what’s going to happen. And for that purpose alone, it does its job. If you’re looking for an easy beach read with straight-forward dialogue, an uncomplicated plot line, some character development (not too much) and a clean ending, this book is for you.
On balance, I’d give it a B/B+ for overall entertainment, style, and serving (my) purpose of an easy read.