by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have some more delicious food mysteries from Penguin authors-Death of a Bad Apple by Penny Pike, The Cakes of Monte Cristo by Jacklyn Brady, Sweet Pepper Hero: A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery by J.J. Cook, and One Foot in the Grave by Kelly Lane. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all of these books, along with a link to purchase them.
Death of a Bad Apple by Penny Pike
Review by Sandra Murphy
Darcy, her boyfriend, Jake the Dream Puff Guy, Aunt Abby, and cousin Dillon fire up the food trucks and take a two-hour drive to Apple Valley where the best apples are grown. The drought has affected the growers, who need the Apple Festival to be a huge success in order to keep going—tourist money, you know.
Darcy and her group are staying with Abby’s old friend, Honey, at her B&B. There’s also Roman, a writer who is doing an article on the festival, and Paula, his photographer. Roman starts a discussion that quickly grows heated when he mentions GMO apples (genetically modified organisms). The GMO apples won’t turn brown when cut, are perfect in size and color every time—and are hated by the growers.
Jake’s making apple cream puffs as his special of the day, and Abby’s got a new salted caramel apple tart to share. Although it’s easy to get overloaded with apples in or on everything from aprons to wall décor, it’s a fun time for all. The hay maze is a popular spot too.
There is a suspicious fire at one of the orchards that has people nervous. When a second fire burns down a barn, it’s declared arson. That barn belongs to Red, one of the larger growers. Red used to be married to Crystal and they have a daughter, Tiffany. Red walked out on them with no explanation, according to Crystal. He then took up with Honey, avoiding Crystal and barely sparing time for Tiffany.
The morning after the GMO discussion, Roman doesn’t show up for breakfast. Paula goes to check on him and Honey tags along. He’s found naked, dead, and face down in bed with an antique apple corer in his neck. Since it belongs to Honey and she’s the one who argued with him about the GMO apples, she’s a suspect.
A couple more fires, a few close calls, and another murder launch, Darcy and her family right into the middle of things.
Readers get to see more of Jake this time, never a bad thing, and of Detective Shelton, Abby’s new boyfriend. The change of venue is nice too, with a lot of Apple Valley history scattered throughout without disrupting the story.
This is the third in the series. The apple festival wraps up with a satisfying ending, leaving the reader wanting an apple—cream puff or tart? Luckily, Abby and Jake are willing to share the recipes, plus one for a caramel-apple cinnamon latte. Just keep in mind, nothing, especially those GMO apples, is what it seems to be.
The Cakes of Monte Cristo by Jacklyn Brady
Review by Sandra Murphy
As you might recall, Rita Lucero, owner of Zydeco Cakes in New Orleans, is not only supplying five show-stopping cakes for the Belle Luna Ball, but also catering the event, a first for the shop. Nerves are already on edge, but when the ballroom gets flooded and the venue changes to a smaller space in the hotel, things really get tense.
In addition, the ever-organized Edie is still on maternity leave. Her desk is piled high with who-knows-what—like anybody has time to look—and they need help. Estelle nominates her niece, Zoey, for the job—or rather, she pushes the girl into it. Rita can’t be picky at this point and after reminding Estelle that Zoey will be treated like any other employee, hires her. After all, the third temp had walked out after just one day. The minute anyone asks Zoey to do anything but sit at the front desk, Estelle is up in arms about “manual labor.” How Rita has any patience left is beyond comprehension.
Ox, Rita’s friend from culinary school, suggests Zoey carry some boxes to the storage area. The girl is less than graceful and drops several of the heavy boxes, damaging the stairs and the wall. With one of the stairs broken enough to see inside, they spot a package, covered in dust.
When it’s opened, a box reveals a ruby necklace, antique by the looks of it. Miss Frankie, who owns the building takes one look and freaks out. She wants Rita to throw the necklace into the river, declaring that it’s cursed. Rita takes it to a local shop for appraisal and is horrified to hear that the owner died that very night. Is it the curse or was she killed?
Zoey just has to run her mouth about finding the necklace. She posts photos of it on her social media, all without asking Rita first. She and the ever-defensive Estelle can’t see what’s wrong with that. It’s that people now think the necklace is with Rita—her car is broken into, as is her house, and she’s mugged for her purse, although the thief was chased away.
On the professional side, the cakes are gorgeous—near life-size dressmaker’s forms with evening gowns, shoes and purses to match, all from cake and fondant. They manage to prep food for the catering job, too, with the help of Ox’s cousin, Calvin.
In between making thousands of icing pearls, dicing sweet potatoes, and arguing with unhappy vendors lined up for the Ball, Rita’s able to find out the history of the necklace. A plantation owner had it designed for his mistress. His wife found out and insisted he give it to her. The mistress put a curse on his family. The feud would make the Hatfield and McCoy families look like BFFs.
With everyone working so closely together, the reader is able to see more of the employees, and what a mixed bunch they are. Edie is ready, she thinks, to come back to work. Zoey’s worried she’ll be out of a job. Estelle, well, she’s a little overprotective of Zoey, some might say overbearing. Ox is as tight-mouthed as ever.
For a sweet read, look no further.
This is the sixth in the series. Rita shares her catering recipes: roasted parmesan potatoes, pork chops with pear chutney, curried cauliflower soup and corn pudding.
Sweet Pepper Hero: A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery by J.J. Cook
Review by Cynthia Chow
Considering the reputation Fire Chief Stella Griffin has acquired, it’s not surprising that she finds herself judging the annual Sweet Pepper Festival recipe contest. Ever since Stella moved from Chicago to become the Tennessee town’s new fire chief, she has impressed everyone with her homemade treats and comfort foods. Only a few know that the real chef is Eric Gamlyn, the fire brigade’s former Chief, who died over 40 years ago. It’s been five months since his ghostly presence disappeared, and Stella misses more than just his assistance in the kitchen. She could use his advice now that illegal stills seem to be bursting into flames all over town, bringing to light secrets hidden by the most “respectable” of citizens.
Two fire brigade volunteers who once worked under Eric and who are aware of his presence, in varying degrees, are determined to bring him back, and their actions may have unforeseen repercussions. It turns out that Eric isn’t the only spirit haunting Sweet Pepper, and releasing them will cause headaches and cost Stella her much-valued privacy. Eric may have been old-fashioned, opinionated, and bossy, but at least he respected boundaries.
The delight of this series comes from watching Stella earn and command the respect of her macho brigade volunteers. They view her alternately as a mother, sister, or daughter, and their protective instincts kick in whenever they consider her reputation impugned or maligned. That never becomes clearer than when a wealthy benefactor demands more than Stella’s good citizenship. Small-town politics and law enforcement intertwine as moonshine production, once overlooked with a nudge and a wink, build towards explosive confrontations. Balancing real-life jeopardy with distraught ghosts is skillfully handled by the authors of this charming and fun series. Sadly, Joyce Lavene, half of the married couple behind the name J.J. Cook, passed away in 2015. With the novel ending on a note that only portends more complications in Stella’s future, readers will anxiously await the news of any new installments.
One Foot in the Grove by Kelly Lane
Review by Sandra Murphy
Eva Knox has returned home to act as PR person for her father’s new business—growing olives in Abundance, Georgia. There’s a lot to learn about olive oil and how it’s pressed, flavored, and bottled.
The family home is also a B&B. If only folks would stop recognizing her, she could get some work done. Eva left her fiancé at the altar 18 years ago. She headed north and got a PR job, never looking back. She met the man she thought was the love of her life and was set to be married. Moments before the wedding, she stopped to meet the horse pulling their carriage. The giggles and noise from inside the carriage made her take a peek and wish she hadn’t. The groom didn’t even look sorry at getting caught with another woman. When Eva decked him, it was all videoed on someone’s cell phone, and was on the internet before she could get out of the wedding dress.
Eva’s sisters are also there: Pep, married to Billy, and Deidre, who is getting divorced, and her five kids. Their father is off to find out why his olive trees are looking poorly. Others in the mix are Loretta, the cook, and Leonardo, the guide who takes folks fishing. Eva’s not met him but Deidre says everyone likes him. Don’t forget Dolly, Eva’s little black dog.
Running for exercise helps Eva sleep. On the night of a big storm, there’s a lull in the rain, lightning, and thunder, so she and Dolly head out for a jog through the woods. She’s forgotten just how dark it can get in the country and gets a little lost, but is eventually able to orient herself; she comes out at the olive grove, an easy run back to her place—until she falls in the mud and realizes that she’s tripped over a dead man. There’s a huge flash of light and a noise like a bomb, and that’s all she remembers.
In what seems like a dream, a Scotsman carries her on his horse and then cleans all the mud from her body. She’s startled to wake up in a strange house with somebody named Precious, taking care of her. The noise was a lightning strike that set the big oak tree on fire.
The dead guy is Leonardo, the fishing guide, and Eva recognizes him from the bakery where she ordered her wedding cake (the second one). It’s a mix-up for sure.
This is the first in a new series and promises to be a good one. There’s a lot of humor, some suspense, information about olive oil and Southern living. It’s heavy on backstory and description, but that’s the sort of thing that usually eases off in the second book of a series. The mystery has a bit of a twist. There’s a spark of romance between Eva and the Scotsman (he was real). The feelings she still has for her first fiancé add tension.
Recipes include tapenade, tomato toast, trout with pecan brown butter, buttermilk coleslaw, cracklin’ biscuits, pork-seasoned crowder peas, butter beans, fried okra, garlic smashed potatoes, wild boar tenderloin, creamy mustard sauce, pan roasted pecans, peach and pecan olive oil cake, and peach frosting.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “january food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 16, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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