by Cynthia Chow
This week we have reviews & giveaways of 5 more Penguin mysteries. We have A Fatal Slip: A Sweet Nothing’s Lingerie Mystery by Meg London, A Tale of Two Biddies: A League of Literary Ladies Mystery by Kylie Logan, A Tough Nut to Kill: A Nut House Mystery by Elizabeth Lee, Beewitched: A Queen Bee Mystery by Hannah Reed, and Poison at the PTA by Laura Alden.
A Fatal Slip: A Sweet Nothing’s Lingerie Mystery By Meg London
Although she’s the owner of the gorgeous vintage lingerie store Sweet Nothings, Arabella Taylor and her female relatives have been experiencing a surprising amount of angst and turmoil in their romantic lives. Niece Emma Taylor only recently returned from successful fashion career in New York due to a devastating breakup. Although she has recovered and begun a promising relationship with her best friend’s brother Brian, Emma fears growing constricted by their small town of Paris, Tennessee and possibly blaming him for it. Priscilla, Arabella’s sister and Emma’s mother, just flew in unexpectedly for a visit, but without her husband. Most importantly for this mystery, though, is Arabella’s new relationship with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Francis Salerno and the reappearance of Hugh Granger, Arabella’s former boyfriend and almost-fiancé.
While Arabella has never forgiven Hugh for impregnating and marrying another woman before Arabella could accept his proposal for marriage, his art dealing has made him a target of the TBI and a topic of interest for Francis. With the ulterior motive of investigating Hugh, Francis encourages Arabella to accept an invitation for her family to attend a dinner hosted by Hugh and his latest wife at his family mansion. The elaborate dinner ends tragically, though, and Arabella’s unforgiving anger at the man and a seemingly inability to stick to one alibi makes her a major suspect despite Hugh’s resentful daughter, a possibly unfaithful younger wife, and the aforementioned shady business practices. With Francis forced to sit on the sidelines due to a conflict of interest, Emma fears that law enforcement may take the easy way out, so with a recommendation from her best friend Emma is able to get a part-time job within the Granger household cataloging artwork and enabling her to investigate.
Emma has a lot on her plate, considering that she is re-evaluating her professional and personal future, caring for her new French bulldog-dachshund puppy, and coming to terms with the state of her parents’ marriage. Even while working part-time at Sweet Nothings and within the Granger household, Emma proves to be an able detective without intruding upon or disrupting the police investigation. Family relationships, the bonds between women, and of course, fashion, all reign supreme in this very enjoyable mystery series. London’s third in the Sweet Nothing’s Lingerie series continues to grow stronger and improve upon its winning formula.
A Tale of Two Biddies: A League of Literary Ladies Mystery By Kylie Logan
The need to protect her safety forced Bea Cartwright to flee New York and start a new life on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island, where she now has a prospering new Bea & Bees Bed and Breakfast and circle of close friends. They may have been court-ordered to join a library book club to put an end to their continual neighboring squabbles, but their League of Literary Ladies has created surprisingly close friendships, albeit ones forged in fire during a previous murder investigation. As the Put-in-Bay town celebrates Bastille Day – why not, anything to get in more tourists – the ladies are currently reading the Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, with the unofficial honorees being the eccentric knitting store owners and twin sisters, Margaret and Alice Defarge.
On the official program agenda is a performance by Guillotine, a renamed rock band consisting of the middle-aged, over-sized, members of former 80s boy-band Boyz ‘n Funk, and who happen to be guests at Bea’s B & B. As unwelcome as lead band member Dino’s lame come-ons are, the accompanying over-aged groupies who follow the band and loudly declare their never-ending love. While the ne’er-do-well and mistake-prone Richie Monroe managing to accrue animosity from a large portion of the locals it’s rather alarming that the visiting Dino also seems to have no goodwill feelings towards the incompetent disaster-maker, especially considering that Richie declares that a recent fall into the lake to be an act of attempted murder.
When the expected finally does occur Bea is not so much encouraged but prodded and nagged into investigating by the League’s boat captain Luella, new-age tarot card reader and often-married Chandra, and winery-owner Kate. While Chandra’s second husband Hank happens to be the town’s police chief and definitely prefers that the Ladies stay uninvolved, Bea’s former occupation naturally has her inclined and capable of solving a murder, especially if it means honoring the memory of the unlamented.
Logan, the author of several other series under the names Miranda Bliss and Casey Daniels, plays with mystery novel expectations. Take a character hated by everyone, add an arrogant rock singer, and throw in a “fake” guillotine; how could anything go wrong? Enjoyably, not what one expects, and this adds to the light-hearted humor and sardonic tone of a heroine who despite her best intentions continues to find herself investigating a murder. While she is encouraged by the League Ladies to both detect and pursue a relationship with the bar-owning Levi Kozlov, Bea’s secret past life and inability fully trust again hinders any progress for the future. This is a fun mystery for readers who enjoy literary lore as well as very funny and engaging characters with snappy dialogue.
A Tough Nut to Kill: A Nut House Mystery By Elizabeth Lee
As a plant biologist, Lindy Blanchard has dedicated herself to developing a strain of pecan trees resistant to drought and pests, an innovation that would revolutionize the pecan growing industry and especially benefit her family’s own pecan farm in Riverville, Texas. The Blanchard family as well the Nut House, their family store that sells pecan-filled goods, including Miss Amelia’s baked goods and “special” pecan pies.
They are all still mourning the loss of Lindy’s father Jake, who was killed in a farm accident but is a death his son Justin still blames on Amos, Jake’s brother and Lindy and Justin’s uncle. When Amos returns to the store begging to speak to their mother they refuse to hear him out, understandable considering that he has been working on another farm since he drunkenly accused them at Jake’s funeral of stealing his rightful inheritance. Now sober, Amos claims to have important information for them, but before they can find if he’s telling the truth he is murdered on the farm, Lindy’s experimental greenhouse burned down, and any surviving trees are stolen.
Heartbroken over the loss of the work, the tragedies pile on when Justin is arrested for the murder, the Nut House has to close, and even Lindy’s sister Bethany may lose a wedding booking at the farm due to rumors. Always believing that Bethany was the favorite and having a less-than-harmonious relationship with her mother, Lindy partners up with her Meemaw Miss Amelia to track where Amos has been and whether he has been speaking the truth; not to mention getting Justin out of jail.
Despite the eccentric characters, the humor is more subtle than laugh-out-loud. It’s a story that grows stronger as the characters develop, and they do so realistically without devolving into clichés or caricatures. A sense of sadness still settles around Lindy, but with the help of Miss Amelia and her childhood friend Deputy Hunter Austen she will have enough support to emerge stronger than ever. This debut series oozes with the charm of the South, from the polite “Bless your hearts” that are the worst insults possible and the Texas whiskey that is included in every recipe. Sentimental without being saccharine, and humor that is neither too over-the-top or outrageous, this is lovely new mystery with very likable characters and a relatable and realistic heroine.
Beewitched: A Queen Bee Mystery By Hannah Reed
“There goes the neighborhood.”
Apparently, even in the eccentrically populated town of Moraine, Wisconsin, witches are not welcomed with open arms by the tourist accommodating residents. However, beekeeper and owner of the local market The Wild Clover, Story Fischer finds that her neighbor, Dyanna Crane, is actually saner than most nearby and a pleasant contrast to Pity-Party Patti Dwyre, Story’s self-proclaimed best-friend who just moved in next door. The coven of visiting witches who descend on the town in order to celebrate Dy’s move into her new home is appreciated even less, and it is only through one of their members being an attorney that prevents the ladies from being run out of town on their (non-existent) brooms.
When one of the coven does inconveniently turn up dead it is surprisingly not the abrasive legal witch but instead Rosina, whom they all soon learn was actually a former resident who fled when her early attempts at practicing her craft were blamed for a poisoning. Recently fired from her job for rumor-mongering, the normally story-hungry reporter Patti is sidelined somewhat due to her aversion to witches. This doesn’t stop her from continuing to plague Story’s life, though, although a failed exorcism that included superglue does have the benefit of blackmail to threaten Patti into actually providing Story with helpful information.
The world of Moraine is one like no other. The tone is reminiscent of that of Joan Hess’s Maggody series, as so many characters push the boundaries of eccentricity. However, in this instance the main character Story Fischer drinks the Kool-aid and frequently acts with impulsive insanity and irrationality. Story’s intentions are always for the best, and she occasionally violates the law with the excuse that she is only looking for the truth. That this usually means that Story makes promises to her detective boyfriend that she has no intention of ever keeping, with the excuse that it is for the better good and his own sanity. In this fifth of the Queen Bee Mystery series Story continues to speak in bullet points, honey recipes are included at the end, and the prolific author who also writes under the name Deb Baker inserts her trademark humor, sarcasm, and very biting wit.
Poison at the PTA By Laura Alden
When Beth Kennedy’s friends, employees, and sister all gather to stage an intervention for her, it is with the best of intentions. Beth hasn’t been eating, she’s having dizzy spells, and she admits to not having had six hours of straight sleep in months. The fact is, Beth is a workaholic and completely wrung out as the owner of the Children’s Bookshelf bookstore, being a single parent to two children, and serving as the new PTA president, and that’s not even including church services and choir practices. Despite the need to fix everyone else’s problems and do everything herself, Beth’s friends have wrested away control for at least six weeks, a time during which she will have meals delivered, extra help will be hired to help with store inventory, chores will be assigned to designated hitters, and the PTA Year in Review eightieth anniversary celebration will be taken over by her friend Mary Margaret Spezza.
Unfortunately, it is after a contentious PTA board meeting that Cookie Van Doorne asks Beth if she believes whether punishment should always match the crime. Before Beth can contemplate the matter more deeply, she learns that Cookie became sick and died from acetaminophen poisoning, a death that Beth cannot believe was accidental or from suicide after receiving the proverbial “If you are reading this I am dead” letter from Cookie claiming that she was murdered. Despite the ban of to-do lists Beth feels obligated to investigate and discover the truth behind Cookie’s death and let her rest in peace.
As a working single mother and owner of her own business, Beth already has more than enough on her plate. Beth’s bookstore staff are constantly bickering, her twelve year-old daughter is heartbroken to learn that she may lose her beloved position as goalie on her hockey team, her nine year-old son declares that he’s in love with his vice-principal, and her best friend Marina is suddenly avoiding Beth and even lying to her face.
What makes Beth so appealing is that she is relatable to readers and one can easily sympathize with her need to please everyone and feels guilty when she cannot. Beth’s relationship with her children is endearingly realistic as she enforces the rules and places restrictions, a neccesary contrast to her much flakier and irresponsible ex-husband. Refreshingly, in this fifth of the series the flighty and impulsively childish Marina and Claudia Wolff, Beth’s irritating nemesis and PTA board member, have their characters advance and redeemed somewhat by the end of the true with the potential for further growth in the future. Beth and her family continue to be very engaging and accessible characters, and the charm of the writing and its good humor continues throughout this series.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “February,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 1, 2014. U.S. residents only.
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