by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day then with a great meal-so this week we have a great meal of 5 food mysteries for you to enjoy and a wedding mystery-Biscuits and Slashed Browns: A Country Store Mystery by Maddie Day, Curses, Boiled Again!: A Lobster Shack Mystery by Shari Randall, Murder Borrowed, Murder Blue: A Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmoore, Scone Cold Killer: An All-Day Breakfast Café Mystery by Lena Gregory (the giveaway for this book only is EBOOK), Survival of the Fritters: A Deputy Donut Mystery by Ginger Bolton, and Dial M for Mousse: An Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery by Laura Bradford. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 6 books (Scone Cold Killer is ebook-the rest are print), along with links you can use to purchase them.
Biscuits and Slashed Browns: A Country Store Mystery by Maddie Day
Review by Cynthia Chow
Californian Robbie Jordan is still getting accustomed to South Lick, Indiana’s harsh winters, so she’s looking forward to celebrating March’s fifth annual Maple Festival. This Brown County event attracts tourists from all around for cook-offs and sugaring demonstrations, but it also coincides with a nearby academic conference on maple tree science. That explains why Boston College’s Professor Warren Connolly is in South Lick, but his climate-change denial stance infuriates Indiana University academics, not to mention the local farmers. Not in the least of these is Sajit Rao, a maple tree farmer and academic himself, whose son Robbie was just hired as a fill-in cook. When Robbie’s Aunt Adele finds Connolly with his throat slashed, there’s a surplus of suspects, with most of the suspicion falling on a missing local.
With her full-time assistant sidelined by a twisted ankle and her fill-in otherwise distracted, Robbie can barely manage to keep up with the increased business at her Pan ‘N Pancakes restaurant and cookware store. Robbie’s obsession with puzzles – she fills in the Sunday New York and London Times crosswords in ink, after all – has her unable to leave the question of Connolly’s killing unsolved. The topic of climate change is an incendiary one, especially when it has academics in competition for research grants and funding. Robbie begins to question those in her newly adopted town, somehow never seeming to be more nosy or intrusive than anyone else in South Lick.
What is so refreshing about this series is how even while investigating, Maddie never neglects her actual day job of running her restaurant. To the contrary, it’s a visible struggle for Maddie to cook, serve tables, and manage to stay awake enough to continue her queries at the end of the day. She presents a realistic, if exhausting, example of how difficult it is to prep and serve her customers when short-staffed. Just as enlightening are how tragedies and broken relationships have left Maddie with understandable trust issues, and her insecurities have her questioning the loyalty of hunky electrician Abe O’Neill. Author Day, who also writes under the name Edith Maxwell, welcomes readers into the Indiana town and sprinkles unique Hoosier aphorisms throughout. What can be appreciated as well is how the author subtlety depicts South Lick’s diverse ethnicity. These details are as instrumental in establishing the setting as the maple trees and down-home food, giving readers a topical mystery abundant with so many characteristics that cozy readers adore.
Curses, Boiled Again!: A Lobster Shack Mystery by Shari Randall
Review by Cynthia Chow
A fall down some stairs and the resulting broken ankle put the brakes on Allie Larkin’s career as a dancer with the New England Ballet Theater, so she’s returned to Mystic Bay to heal and help her Aunt Gully run the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack. Gully Fontana threw everything she had into the lobster restaurant after the death of her husband, and Allie is willing to do whatever it takes to help her beloved aunt succeed. That makes winning Memorial Day’s Mystic Bay Food Festival Lobster Roll contest crucial, especially since the competition will be featured on the YUM television network and judged by celebrities. One of those judges is Broadway and Hollywood star actress Contessa Wells, a former Mystic Bay resident who continues to act in her seventies. The contest barely begins before all of judges are laid waste by a poisoned lobster roll, with blame quickly falling on the one other Mystic Bay competitor.
Although the Lazy Mermaid at first prospers with the influx of publicity from the drama, the pendulum swings and threatens everything Aunt Gully worked to achieve. The folksy police chief is in way over his head as more reporters descend upon the touristy town, and he is easily bulldozed over by the intensely focused State Police Detective Rosato. Fearful that her Aunt Gully will complacently trust the goodness of others to prove her innocence, Allie, her business-minded sister Lorel, and best friend Verity Brooks begin investigating protesting lobster liberators, their fellow contestants, and even the hospitalized judges.
It’s always a treat to discover a new mystery series, and this one delivers both a strong plot and artfully developed new characters. Dancing is not just Allie’s career but also the source of her inner peace, and here we see her having to realign her priorities. Halfway through the novel the suspense builds to edge-of-the-seat tension, as Aunt Gully’s future truly looks to be in jeopardy. Life that revolves around the lobstering industry is highlighted, with ample descriptions of lobster delicacies and their preparation. Allie is revealed to be a highly intelligent, admirable heroine who deftly blends into her hometown as she subtly gathers more information. This is novel where side characters are just as interesting as the core group, and it would be fascinating to see where all of their paths go in the future. This debut series introduces a fully developed community that serves as a stellar launching point for more visits to Mystic Bay and the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack.
Murder Borrowed, Murder Blue: A Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmoore
Review by Cynthia Chow
It seemed like a wonderful business opportunity at the time. A celebrity wedding featured on a reality television show would provide an immense amount of publicity for her wedding planning business and new Bed & Breakfast, so Mallory Shepard is initially thrilled to have a famous couple as clients. Dakota Craig left Port Quincy, Pennsylvania, to star on a high school soap opera, and now she is returning with a reignited career as America’s Sweetheart. Her fiancé Beau Wright is a famous country singer himself, although his reputation as a playboy gives him a shadier edge. Mallory’s definitely going to have her hands full negotiating between the down-to-earth bride and her demanding momager, not to mention having committed to planning and hosting the Dunlap Women’s Academy debutante Winter Ball. It’s going to be an insane two weeks, and no one could have predicted that yet another murder would threaten to stop both events in their tracks.
Dakota’s mother isn’t about to let a little thing like the death of the maid of honor stop the wedding of the year, and Mallory’s almost-but-thank-goodness-not-mother-in-law Hurricane Helen Pierce demands that Mallory fulfills her obligation to the Winter Ball. As a result, she and her cake baking sister Rachel are forced to revise and juggle their plans while ignoring the fact that murder, theft, and even more poisonings are centered around their clients. A camera crew recording their every move only increases the pressure, as does attempting to plan an increasing number of undercover ceremonies.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that in a mystery where the characters are wedding planners who bake wedding cakes while running a Bed & Breakfast, there’s a lot going on. Warring clients, romantic escapades, Hollywood intrigue, and academic infighting all intertwine in this complicated and always unpredictable novel. Mallory’s sister still borrows her clothes and is ruthless in her pursuit of attractive men, but her professional ambition has leveled her out and allowed her to mature. There looks to be no end in sight of the war between Mallory and Helen, although Mallory is gaining the skills to outmaneuver the ruthless manipulator. Mallory’s own romantic life gets complicated when her boyfriend has an unforeseen connection to I Do’s host, leading towards more drama than even the Ice Queen could have planned. The details of a wedding ceremony are as delightful as the shenanigans of a reality television show, ensuring that readers will be entertained on so many levels. This is a treat for those who appreciate fashion, food, and the drama of weddings.
Scone Cold Killer: An All-Day Breakfast Café Mystery by Lena Gregory
Review by Cynthia Chow
When Gia Morelli fled New York City, she left behind an ex-husband, the victims of his financial scams, and the cloud of suspicion linked to his crimes. Central Florida’s humid September was a preferable escape to paranoia and the fear of being attacked, especially as it has the promise of opening Gia’s dream All-Day Breakfast Café in Boggy Creek. Unfortunately, learning to serve grits to her doubting new customers will be a breeze compared to the discovery of her ex’s body in the Café’s dumpster. A Grand Opening has never seemed less grand.
All of Gia’s instincts tell her to flee back to New York City, especially when the police captain readily expresses his intention of seeing her go down for the murder. Having finally managed to lure her to Boggy City though, Gia’s former roommate and best friend Savannah isn’t about to give up, convincing her cousin Detective Hunter Quinn to help them track down the real killer. Hunt proves to be an essential ally in keeping the café open, as Gia has enough trouble just finding capable staff while tweaking the menu towards more Southern tastes. Gia truly is a Stranger in a Strange land in Boggy Creek, and she’s unable to escape the sense of being watched or the fear that one of late-ex-husband’s victims is taking his revenge. For a city girl who uses the chaotic sounds of Lethal Weapon playing in the background to help her fall asleep at night, adjusting to the threat of bears, snakes, and spiders will be as challenging as to facing down a murderer.
There are so many reasons to enjoy this new series. Multiple suspects have motives to have wanted Bradley Remington dead, keeping readers guessing until the final surprising reveal. Even more satisfying is the gradual progression of Gia as she rebuilds her life, recovering from the betrayal of her husband, and suffering from not a little PTSD. Savannah brings in optimism and humor, and one sees how her ebullience is needed to pull a weary Gia out of her depression. Their relationship is never one-sided though, and it is enlightening when Hunt reveals the impact Gia had upon Savannah’s life. Gia herself begins the novel acquiescing to police demands in an effort to preserve what little security and safety remains, but as she gains strength and confidence Gia defies the rules and begins to act. Readers will cheer for Gia as she rebuilds her life and sense of self, gaining a Boggy Creek family along the way. Delicious sounding breakfast treats and recipes enhance this well-crafted mystery, which develops a fully-formed Boggy Creek with its own history and secrets. Readers will look forward to learning more about this town, and be eager to spend more time with Gia and her friends.
Survival of the Fritters: A Deputy Donut Mystery by Ginger Bolton
Review by Cynthia Chow
Although it was the police officers of Fallingbrook, Wisconsin, who encouraged Emily Westhill to open the Deputy Donut bakery, the shop’s name comes from her cat and not any official or legal affiliation. Emily may no longer be a 911 operator, but having the retired police chief as her assistant and the Fallingbrook police department as most loyal customers, she’s extremely networked and informed. When one of the donut shop’s most loyal and reliable customers fails to arrive for her scheduled knitting group meeting, her fellow Knitpickers enlist Emily along for a welfare check that leads to a gruesome discovery. Not only has doll-mender Georgia Treetor been murdered, but someone has stuffed donut-accessorized doll down her throat.
A Deputy Donut bakery box laid atop Georgia connects her death to Emily’s shop, placing no small amount of guilt and responsibility upon the young baker. One of the first 911 calls Emily received at her previous job was from Georgia reporting her adult son missing, and his murder was one that Emily’s late husband never solved. This, along with her new neighbor being a close friend of Georgia, leads Emily into looking closer into the deaths that have spanned five years.
While a donut shop hosting senior knitters places this debut series firmly in the cozy category, it also delves deeply into the psychological trauma resonating through this band of survivors. Widowed before she was even thirty, Emily carries with her not just sorrow, but the guilt of not being the 911 operator on call when her police officer husband was shot. That sense of failure led her not just to quit her job, but to cut off ties to those who reminded her of the most important life she never saved. Emily is starting to move on in her life though, and much of that involves not just resolving one of his last cases, but in allowing her husband’s best friend and partner back into her life. There are enough descriptions of gourmet donuts to satisfy any foodie, while Emily’s experience and connections with the police keep her investigations grounded and practical. Emily is smart, calm in an emergency, and as creative with her detecting as she is with her recipes. The author of mysteries under the name Janet Bolin continues to deliver fun and enthralling reads with this witty, skillfully plotted, extremely satisfying mystery.
Dial M for Mousse: An Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery by Laura Bradford
Review by Sandra Murphy
Winnie Johnson used to own a bakery, but the landlord raised the rent so high, she was forced to close shop. Now her former space is home to a pool hall.
She has a fondness for older people. When a friend passed away, Winnie inherited the odd combination of a cat who hisses at her every overture and an ambulance. Making the best of it, Winnie now runs the Emergency Dessert Squad and delivers baked pick-me-ups. It’s an impressive sight to see the ambulance wheel up to a house or business, Winnie in uniform, the dessert on a gurney, complete with added icing from an IV bag.
Her latest delivery is for five desserts to an artists retreat. The participants include a puppeteer, magician, mime, comedian, and poet. Winnie comes up with inventive ideas for each and is on hand to make her deliveries. Sally Dearfield, the organizer, says desserts are to be left in each recipient’s cabin. When Winnie and her BFF, sidekick, assistant, partner-in-crime, Renee, go to find Sally, they discover all five of the artists standing over Sally’s dead body.
It’s bad enough to have a fake ambulance on hand at the scene, but when Sally’s death is ruled a murder, by poison no less, it could ruin Winnie’s business and reputation. It couldn’t hurt to ask a few questions, right?
Winnie soon finds out each of the participants had a reason to want Sally gone. Motive is covered, but what about means and opportunity? With all five present, it’s hard to understand how the poison could have been administered, unless they were in it together.
On the home front, Winnie’s love life is suffering. She’s happy with Jay and he with her, but Jay’s sixteen-year old daughter, Caroline, is determined to end the relationship. Jay’s ex is an actress who’s never mentioned a daughter. Out of the blue, she wants Jay and Caroline to visit. Jay’s phone calls have been short and few but with a laugh track of their own as Caroline and her mother have a good time in the background.
Winnie is always sensitive to the feelings of her older friends, but with so much on her mind, her attention falters. In addition to drumming up business, facing up to a failure of a relationship, a client murdered, and a cat who still hisses at her after months of living together, her friends think she doesn’t need them anymore.
This is the third book in the series. Winnie and Renee are a hoot, prone to getting themselves into and out of trouble. Mr. Parker and Bridgett, her older friends, add humor and experience. Lovey, the cat, insists on going along for every dessert delivery but is holding out about her feelings for Winnie. For most themed cozies, it’s easy to find several authors, whether the topic is fabric, food, or setting. It’s safe to say, dessert delivery via an ambulance is unique.
Recipes are given at the back of the book: Your Jokes Make Me Snicker-Doodle cookies the comedian enjoyed, and Now You See ‘Em, Now You Don-uts the maple-glazed treats for the magician.
To enter to win a copy of all 6 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “valentine food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 17, 2018. 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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