First off, I have to agree with just about everything Ms. Kitty says here One of her points is that the UU character seems a lame stereotype of a UU who enjoys protesting and getting arrested, but never seems to get anything accomplished that actually helps anybody. Robin notes in the comments "Unfortunately any "charicature" or stereotype is usually based on a certain amount of truth. There are lots of shallow U*Us who talk the talk but fail or refuse to walk the walk. . . and not just when it comes to social justice"
He's right, of course. But Ms. Kitty's point isn't that stereotypes can't be true*. It's that writing about stereotypes usually doesn't make for great writing. This book also has a gay guy who has an antique store, loves to cook and sings show tunes all the time. There are certainly lots of gay men who enjoy those things. But what's more interesting is when she writes against type and has characters with quirks that differ from the expected ones. The minister who hosts a poker game that the players call the "Building and Grounds committee" is a nice touch. As is the town bookie, who turns out to be a devoted family man delighted that his grandson is winning creative writing prizes. Even the gay guy turning the local girl scout troop into a finishing school of sorts is pretty funny. Because it differs from the stereotype.
The plot has Hallie returning from college to care for her eight younger siblings after the death of her father. Her biological family ends up getting a great deal of help from the family of friends she has put together in the previous two books. (I am typically a sucker for "family of friends" plots, FWIW.)
As seems to be the standard for this series, the minor characters are much better written and more interesting than the major ones, though the major ones have improved a lot.
I agree with Ms. Kitty that it is a shame that the author feels the need to lighten up the mood so much with inappropriate banter. (Of course some people are like that about death. An author could write characters being silly after a death as an expression of obvious grief. The Mary Tyler Moore episode with the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, an example Pederson even has a character mention in the book, is a really good example of that and Pederson is going for a similar feeling. But Pederson's characters are not Mary Tyler Moore and their kidding doesn't feel like grief, but just bare and appalling tackiness in the face of tragedy.)
When Pederson lets her characters grieve, the results can be wonderful. The scene after the father's funeral where Bernard has to guide Hallie through the motions of the social ritual of the post-funeral reception, is spectacular. It's pity Pederson doesn't trust her characters a little bit more and let them feel their emotions. It would make them more complex and more sympathetic.
The nitpicker in me points out that there are a lot of timing issues in this series. Hallie pickes up how to run a household almost immediately, something I'm still working on at 28 and without kids, but Italian immigrant Ottavio has learned very little English in his two years in America surrounded totally by English speakers. (I knew several people in college who spent a summer in a European country and came back sounding more or less fluent.)
On the whole, each book has been better than the last. I'm doubting PR guy will contact me about the last book in the series, but I may well pick it up and review it anyway when it comes out as I'd like to see if the writing improves still more.
*I recall reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles early in high school and thinking of the "Somewhat insecure older chap sedecues trusting young woman and then leaves her heartbroken" plot as total cheesy melodrama. Then I saw it happen to half my friends.