by Sandra Murphy
This week we have some January mysteries, and one December one, from Penguin with settings that include flowers, food and magic-For Whom the Bluebell Tolls by Beverly Allen, Snoop to Nuts by Elizabeth Lee, and Spell Booked by Joyce and Jim Lavene. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win all 3 books, and a link to purchase them.
For Whom the Bluebell Tolls By Beverly Allen
Review by Sandra Murphy
Think it might be fun to be on a reality show? Think again. Everything is last-minute, rush, rush, rush, and problems pop up right and left. Tempers flare, things are said, and the next thing you know, there’s a dead body.
Audrey Bloom and her cousin own the local florist shop. Brad The Cad, Audrey’s ex who left her for the bright lights and big city, has arranged for Fix My Wedding to film in Ramble, the hometown he thought too small. It will bring business to the local hotel, restaurants, and to Audrey—she’ll get to do flowers for the whole wedding, pending approval from the show’s hosts, Gary and Gigi.
Audrey is to make three bridal bouquets. The first one is one of her Victorian bouquets, which she is semi-famous for, since she knows the language of flowers—each has a special meaning. The second will be more traditional, and the third a bit outside the box. The big reveal will be on camera so viewers can share in the bride’s surprise.
The genial host is not the persona the cast and crew see. Gary is rude, ruthless and not above making threats to everyone’s current and future livelihood. It’s no surprise that when a dead body is found, it’s Gary’s.
The suspects are many, including Brad. Gary argued with just too many people to narrow the list. Even Audrey had a motive, although she has an alibi. In spite of the fact that Brad treated her badly, she still remembers the good times. Brad declares he’s not sorry for leaving town, just sorry he didn’t ask Audrey to go with him. She has to help clear his name. The complication is Nick the baker, Audrey’s new love interest. A florist shop keeps regular hours and a baker has to work while everyone else sleeps. Nick alludes to a future, but how long will it take to get there?
It’s just as well she has the murder to focus on instead. Gigi is more grief-stricken than one would think. The crew, not so much. A new host is flown in and even he might have had a motive—the new gig. It’s enough to give anyone a headache. Add in protesters, a bachelorette party that ends with table-dancing by the bride and bridesmaids (the table did not survive), the florist shop trashed, threatening notes—and really, was the whole thing worth it?
Each of the crew has an agenda and a secret. The bridal party and protesters do too. How will Audrey be able to sort things out before the wedding? After the I do’s, everyone leaves town, so it’s now or never.
No one goes off into the woods alone with a suspect or meets a mysterious stranger at midnight. I did figure out who the killer was along with part of the motive, but there are enough subplots and side-stories to keep readers turning the page. The romantic triangle adds a bit of spice as well.
Once again, Allen delivers a floral delight. The business of running a florist’s shop is woven into the story, the language of flowers added in bits and pieces, and the look into the behind-the-scenes of a reality show is revealing.
For best results, read Bloom and Doom, the first of the series, so you’ll have the background on Brad The Cad.
Snoop to Nuts By Elizabeth Lee
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s time for the Agriculture Fair again and Miss Amelia Blanchard is sure to win the most prizes—she always does. This year there’s a new category, The Most Original Pecan Treat. If she can win that one, there’s no disputing her food is the best anywhere.
Her entry is Heavenly Texas Pecan Caviar, made with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, cilantro and, of course, pecans. Millroy Jenkins, pastor of the church, is the judge. He tastes each dish, awards points, and will announce the winner. Ethelred Tomroy is her biggest if not best competitor. She complains it’s really a personality contest and Amelia wins because everyone likes her best—well, at least part of that’s true. Ethelred’s a pain in the patoot.
It’s a shock when the pastor tastes Amelia’s pecan caviar and it’s inedible. It’s a bigger shock when Amelia gives the pastor a second bite from another portion stored on ice. He seemed to love it but then falls over dead. Now, no one thinks Amelia would ever kill anybody, especially over a blue ribbon, but there are doubts raised. It wasn’t a batch gone bad—it was poison. No one else should have had access to the caviar.
Amelia is brought in for questioning and after that seems to lose her spunk. Her granddaughter, Lindy, is bound and determined to get to the bottom of the crime, restore her grandma’s reputation and that of her pecan farm—and maybe find herself a love life.
There are a lot of subplots to follow and characters to meet. From the runaway hog who starts all the excitement to the lawman who catches him, friends, family, neighbors, visitors, and whatever might be in the pastor’s past, it’s not an easy investigation for Lindy or the police. Luckily, in a small town, the rules can be bent further than you’d think. Hunter, Lindy’s maybe-love-interest, is part of the official investigation and unofficial liaison between her family and the law.
As with the first book in the series, A Tough Nut to Kill, readers learn a lot about growing pecan trees, the many ways pecans can be used, small-town life and, most of all, how vital change is to survival. Considering how much time is spent at Miss Amelia’s Nut House Kitchen where all kinds of goodies are sold, it’s a good thing recipes are included—tassies (tiny pies), orange and pecan cookies, a recipe with orange, apple, onion, and cranberry sauce, a layer cake, tiny cinnamon rolls and, of course, the caviar. The books don’t have to be read in order, but you won’t want to miss out on any of the shenanigans, so be sure to get both.
Spell Booked By Joyce and Jim Lavene
review by Sandra Murhpy
What happens when witches get old? Well, like anybody else, the AARP mailings start coming and they think of retirement to warmer climates. On the other hand, witches have to find their own replacements in the coven before they can do that.
Mollie, Elsie, and Olivia have been on the lookout for new witches for some time. They’ve found a promising candidate at the library. Of course, Mollie is the only one of them who is married and that causes a few complications about moving away from family—and convincing hubby to retire too.
That soon becomes the least of their worries when Olivia turns up dead in an alley. It’s especially hard to sneak up on a witch, so Mollie and Elsie assume it was Death by Witch. It’s a problem that Mollie’s husband is the police officer on the case since he doesn’t know they’re witches. To make matters worse, their Spell Book is gone. The only written record of all the spells, it’s invaluable. After all, no one, not even a witch, can remember all the spells!
Mollie and Elsie think they have the whole thing solved when Olivia turns up as a ghost. Surely, she can just tell them who killed her—but no. Olivia didn’t see who it was. There’s a bit of humor in the midst of the sadness as Olivia finds out ghosts don’t have the social status that witches do.
There are a number of suspects but Larry the Werewolf is arrested. This is a major concern since a full moon is due in a few days. Everyone knows werewolves don’t trust witches, and vice-versa.
Through it all, Mollie and Elsie maintain Larry’s innocence, investigate on their own, and convince a young librarian that her talents extend beyond the Dewey Decimal System.
The magic doesn’t get in the way of a good story and although the identity of the murderer was a surprise, it made sense. The characters are people you’d like to meet and the store they own sounds like fun, if creepy. No recipes and no spells at the back of the book!
This is the first in a new series. Previous series by the same authors are the Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries and the Renaissance Faire Mysteries.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “January,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 24, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
If you enjoy food mysteries, why not check out KRL’s food column How I Met My Dinner where you will find out about some great food & get recipes!
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