by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have another fun group of mystery reviews & giveaways from Penguin authors, these all came out in January & February: Murder with Ganache: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette, Murder Sends a Postcard: A Haunted Souvenir Shop Mystery By Christy Fifield, Playing with Fire by J. J. Cook, and Zero Degree Murder by M. L. Rowland. Info on how to win copies of all 4 of these fun mysteries at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.
Murder with Ganache: A Key West Food Critic Mystery By Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waived off the dessert cart. – Erma Bombeck
Weddings are notorious for bringing out the best – and worst – in families. For designated maid-of-honor and aspiring food writer Hayley Snow, this includes her own family, as the upcoming nuptials of her best friend Connie means that Hayley’s divorced parents, her mother’s new boyfriend, her stepmother, and teenaged stepbrother are all flying in to Key West, Florida for what will surely be a contentious reunion. On top of that, Hayley has two hundred lime cupcakes to bake for the wedding “cake” and her acrimonious relationship with the co-owner of Key Zest magazine has Hayley pressured to write numerous witty restaurant reviews as well as an article on the famous six-toed Hemingway cats.
Not surprisingly, the “mothers” are off to a rocky start, with Hayley’s mother marking her territory with references and connections made from a previous Florida visit, stepmother Allison muttering alimony snarks, and her son Rory adding on a heaping mix of adolescent angst and turmoil. His anger over being sent away to school and normal teenaged hormones make Rory obnoxiously prickly and unpleasant, and when he is forcibly mandated to attend a “Jack-and-Jill” bridal shower Hayley suggests that Rory take a break to tour Duvall Street on his own. When he fails to return, all bridal plans are put on hold as the police and Hayley search for the boy. What they tragically discover is that Rory’s life is at stake and at risk either from a murderer, or just as alarming, from the police.
Even with Hayley burdened with guilt and desperate to save her family she cannot risk sacrificing her duties or her tenuous position as food writer at the magazine, so readers are happily treated to her restaurant critiques and fabulous descriptions of meals. In Hayley’s family, food has always been linked with love, comfort, and peace, so in times of stress both she and her mother resort to cooking and preparing meals for their loved ones. It is only one aspect that divides her mother from her more scientific stepmother, as Hayley and her mother also share a belief in psychics and tarot readers, a continual irony considering that Hayley’s best friend Eric is a clinical psychologist.
Writing under the name Lucy Burdette, author and psychologist Roberta Isleib once again crafts a complicated mystery that incorporates delectable descriptions of Key West cuisine and topics unique to the area. The high standard and escalating cost of living in Key West is accompanied by a growing young homeless community, and the tourist-driven economy has local businesses preferring that their unpleasant presence stay out of sight and not distract from the beauty of the area. While still including her trademark wit and love of good cuisine, the author does not shy away from tackling the emotions any wedding brings, especially considering that Hayley’s bleak love life is being outshone by her mother’s, and the reunion of exes inevitably stirs up residual resentments and arguments.
In this compelling mystery Burdette successfully balances the serious topics of homeless youth and divided families with bad tourist cuisine, excellent cooking, and a mother’s quest to find true love for her daughter. Hayley may lose her mind, her job, and possibly her life, but she will always have her family’s love. Not to mention an appreciation of excellent food.
Murder Sends a Postcard: A Haunted Souvenir Shop Mystery By Christy Fifield
Review by Cynthia Chow
During the summer season in Keyhole Bay, Florida, Yankee tourists flood the small town and test their Southern patience. While the close-knit community of shop owners detests the crowds, noise, and increase in traffic, they do definitely appreciate the business. Gloryanna “Glory” Martine, owner of Southern Treasures souvenir gift shop, finds respite with her weekly Thursday Southern dinners with her best friends Ernie, Felipe, and Karen, not to mention her undefined growing relationship with book store owner Jack Robinson. This is vital to Glory’s sanity, as she shares Southern Treasures with the store’s mascot parrot Bluebeard, a very vocal parrot who flirts with female patrons, swears like a pirate, and occasionally channels the ghost of her Uncle Louis Georges. Louis left Glory the majority ownership of his store, with the smaller share going to her cousin Peter, a stuffed shirt who pretentiously offers unhelpful business advice from afar. At least, mostly from afar, as a surprise drop-by visit has him wieldy lofty ideas of expansion with little actual practicality.
The wave of tourism has its limits though, as seen in the failure of the unsightly Bayvue Estates, an uncompleted development that defaulted on its loans, leaving in its wake angry investors, construction workers, and bank employees who lost their jobs as a result. The auditor sent from the North to investigate the bank doesn’t exactly garner a fan base either, but Glory finds herself very much liking the ambitious, single, and intelligent Bridget McKenna. No one locally seems too disturbed with Bridget goes missing, but when she is discovered dead in what is declared a drug overdose, Glory is determined to find out the truth about the death of a woman she had hoped would become a good friend. As Glory learns more about Bridget’s life she as well discovers many truths behind those living in Keyhole Bay, where residences are measured by generations, not years, and newcomers looked upon with suspicion. However, Glory learns that not all secrets are nefarious, and when they are revealed as relationships evolve they can actually bring people closer together.
By having the murder not occurring until nearly one hundred pages into the novel, the reader is given the opportunity to become involved not only in the lives of Glory and her friends but invested in Bridget as well. Readers truly feel her loss and are able to sympathize with Glory’s need to find justice for Bridget. Having been a lonely single child and orphaned at age seventeen, Glory has filled her need for family with good friends but relates all too well with Bridget, whose only family consisted of a half-brother whom she barely knew and at first never even recognized as adults. In the Southern tradition much of the investigations and discussions occur during the preparation and enjoyment of good food, and delectable recipes of the meals perfect for a hot summer end the novel. Charming characters, a timely topic, and a very strong heroine will have readers cheering for her endeavors and appreciating her love for Keyhole Bay, her opinionated parrot, and her good friends.
Playing with Fire by J. J. Cook
Review by Sandra Murphy
Fire Chief Stella Griffin has her hands full in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee. It’s a long way from Chicago, and not just in miles. She’s been asked to build and train a volunteer fire brigade so she took a leave of absence from her job as Fire Captain in Chicago and went south. It took her by surprise to find out that her mother was born and raised in Sweet Pepper and had never mentioned it. Nor had Mom mentioned that her Daddy was the town millionaire, the owner of the sweet pepper pickling factory. Pretty much anything that looks shady is blamed on the Carson family.
In fact, Stella dated John, a police officer for a bit but he couldn’t get past the Carson image so that ended. Now she sees Zane, a park ranger helicopter pilot who is more fun and less commitment minded. That’s when she’s not seeing Eric, the former fire chief. Don’t think Stella is two-timing Zane—Eric’s dead and has been for forty years now. The legend says Eric ran into a fire to save Ricky Senior and the roof collapsed. That story bit the dust when a fire at the old station house revealed a skeleton in the wall. Eric, of course, and with a bullet hole in the back of his head.
Eric used to be able to move between his cabin and the old fire house but now seems confined to the cabin. That’s not too big a problem for him—he loves it there and now there’s Stella and a Dalmation pup named Hero for company. Eric can manifest himself and is fascinated with cooking shows. Luckily, he can also cook, a physical trait not all ghosts have. Stella reaps the benefits. Left to her own, she’d probably survive on cereal from the box.
A cold case is hard to solve but one this old is a doozy. Stella’s parents show up to pressure her into returning to Chicago and they bring her old boyfriend, Doug, along. Doug’s the police officer Stella thought she’d marry—until she found him in bed with a friend of hers.
An additional problem is—if Eric is dead and in the wall, who is buried in Eric’s grave? The body is exhumed and more suspicion points to the Carson family because of it. Stella’s mom is able to make amends with her father, Ben Carson, although things are not exactly comfortable.
Stella is involved with the Sweet Pepper festival too, as a guide. It’s her job to be a walking information booth—and supply a recipe for the contest. Good thing Eric can figure that one out for her. I was disappointed that his recipe was not included at the back of the book although the Hot/Sweet Pepper relish, Bacon Wrapped Banana Peppers and Red Pepper Fudge are there.
This is the second book in the series and I hope the third comes out soon. The characters are a lot of fun, the town is a place you’d like to visit and I’m sure you’d want to tour the Sweet Pepper factory as well. The first book is titled That Old Flame of Mine.
Zero Degree Murder by M. L. Rowland
Review by Sandra Murphy
Grace Kincaid is a loner. She feels most comfortable away from cities and people. She’s an EMT/SAR—paramedic trained search and rescue. Searches have been almost back to back lately—first the two missing sisters, ages six and eight who came walking out of the woods behind the house on their own. Then there was the idiot man who got separated from his girlfriend. While searchers combed the area for him, he hiked out on his own and spent the afternoon playing pool and drinking beer with his buddies. The third one was the worst—a sixteen year old boy, found dead in his truck, after going over the side on a mountain road. Grace is tired to the bone but when her beeper goes off on Thanksgiving Day, she, Ralph and Steve are the only ones to respond. She has to go.
Rob Christian and an undetermined number of others, had gone for a hike up the Aspen Springs Trail on Mount San Rafael. It’s a bigger deal than usual because of the media attention—Rob is the British version of Brad Pitt. Two other actors are along for sure, maybe two more and the guy the production company hired to teach Rob fight moves. Three lost? Five? Nobody knows for sure.
Another complication is Ralph’s injured knee. It’s enough to ground him at the SAR trailer to act as Command Post. Steve is an over enthusiastic kind of guy, not a team player at all. He’s also star-struck and more concerned with getting autographs for his wife and fame for himself than being careful. Even though Grace has more seniority and good sense, Steve is designated Team Leader on this one. Steve tends to act first and think second. Grace hopes Steve can remember Rule Number One—don’t get your teammate killed.
Usually a mystery is a whodunnit. In this case, we know who gets killed and who did it right away. The motive is pretty clear as well. This book is more suspense than mystery because Rob and Grace are the murderer’s targets. He’ll do anything to find and kill them both.
Cut off from the Command Post, no radio, off the main trail, low on food and snow falling like crazy, Grace and Rob (who has a severely sprained ankle) are fighting the weather, fear and trying to balance being visible to SAR helicopters, other SAR teams but able to remain hidden from the killer. Rob learns more about himself—what he’s capable of, what he wants to do with his life and to rely on another person. Grace learns that Rob is not just a spoiled movie star but a good man that she can be friends with and trust.
This is a book I wanted to read faster to make sure Grace and Rob were both saved but also wanted to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. The characters are believable and the expertise of SAR is woven seamlessly into the story, no information dumps here. Grace and Ralph in particular are characters I want to read about again but I hope Rob shows up from time to time too.
Description is a little heavy but very realistic especially after it snows. I expected it to be windy and cold with six inches of snow on the ground when I looked out my window! This is labeled the first in a series. I just hope the second book doesn’t take too long to get here.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Fun,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 15, 2014. U.S. residents only.
NOTE: We forgot to change the contest line above and it was still showing Food Pengiun–those entries will be counted in this, but note we have now changed the entry line and deadline. Thanks.
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