by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have some more fun February and March mysteries from Kensington authors-Flamenco, Flan and Fatalities by Mary McHugh, Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A. L. Herbert, Stiff Penalty By Annelise Ryan, and A Healthy Homicide: A Blossom Valley Mystery By Staci McLaughlin. Details on how to win a copies of all 4 book at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.
Flamenco, Flan and Fatalities By Mary McHugh
Review by Sandra Murphy
Five fiftyish friends are fabulous tap dancers. Their You Tube video went viral and now they are in demand beyond the nursing home circuit. The last trip took them on a Russian cruise ship. This time they’re in Spain on a train.
Tina told the tale of the Russian cruise ship but this time it’s Gini’s turn. Dick Shambless is a television talk show host of the most conservative, insulting kind. He’s traveling with his “co-worker” and cameraman. There are several people on the tour who actively hate Shambless and more who join that feeling after meeting him.
The first night, the restaurant is known for its seafood dishes. Shambless, of course, orders steak. He’s obnoxious to everyone except a woman from the tour who claims to be his biggest fan. Of course, that’s only while the camera is running.
It’s no surprise that he’s killed. The mystery is why it hasn’t happened before now. The women are asked to go ahead with their dancing since there are not real mourners after the death and besides, people need something uplifting to take their minds off the murder.
Mary Louise, married to George, always collects recipes so she can cook the gourmet meals George expects. This time though, she goes off the rails a bit when she meets Mike. He’s ready to sweep her off her feet and it looks like she’s ready to let him. The other women think it’s a mistake but she’s not to be dissuaded.
Even Pat meets someone during the trip. Janice runs into Tom, another actor. His wife Sylvia is not pleased and she’s not shy in telling everyone who will listen. Sylvia is one of the people who have a past with Shambless so there’s added tension in her life these days.
Often when a truly hateful character is killed, you have to feel sorry for the killer (almost). This time, that’s not a problem.
In spite of Mary Louise’s infatuation with Mike, she managed to collect recipes as usual and they are shared in the book. The women are good friends, people you’d want to hang out with, dance with, and eat and drink with, although you might want to skip the dead bodies’ part.
Chorus Lines, Caviar and Corpses was the first in the series. Although the books can be read out of order, you won’t want to miss any of the stories so start from the beginning. The next book, Cancans, Croissants and Caskets will be out in the fall of 2015. Who will tell that tale? Janice the actress takes her turn.
Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles By A. L. Herbert
Review by Sandra Murphy
Halia Watkins owns Mahalia’s Sweet Tea, the best soul food restaurant in Prince George’s County, Maryland. You might think it odd to find soul food that far North of South but one step inside the door, one whiff of fried chicken and one look at Mama Celia’s desserts, and honey, you’re home, no matter where you’re from.
Halia moved back in with her mom, Celia, which could cause some friction, especially since Halia is past forty and still without a man. Celia does her best–there’s the stranger she met in line at the supermarket, the UPS guy and that police officer who drops by for coffee–but Halia’s got her mind on business, not fooling with some trifling man. It works out well that Celia is a morning person and loves to bake while Halia comes in later and runs the restaurant–except for Wavonne. That’s Halia’s cousin and nobody can really control her. Here’s an example. Halia tells customers the dessert cookies are generously proportioned. Wavonne says “We got some big-ass cookies for dessert.”
Still, when there’s an emergency, say like, moving a dead body, family is who you turn to. Marcus is a smooth-talking, charismatic, handsome and charming guy. He gets away with murder until murder does away with him.
Halia is pretty sure that Marcus’ dead body in her kitchen, seemingly smacked upside the head with one of her best cast iron skillets, would have a negative impact on business. She corrals Wavonne to help move the body to the alley instead.
Imagine her surprise when no one discovers Marcus. She finally comes up with an excuse to take a peek and finds–he’s gone! Now of course, she had a perfectly good reason to move the body. After all, who wants to eat fried chicken cooked up in a murder weapon? But who else could have a reason to move Marcus and where did he go?
It seems like there are any number of suspects to choose from for who did the deed, fewer for who would move him and no clues at all as to where he went. Marcus was basically, a con man. He talked people into taking out loans on their homes, investing the money with him and letting the dividends pay off the mortgage in just a few years a win/win for all, until the checks stop coming. Add in that Marcus dated Jennie and then met Regine. Jennie found out about Regine who then found out he was still seeing Jennie.
Jacqueline, Marcus’ sister, inherits everything after his death so there’s a motive too. The girl’s so uppity, she won’t eat fried foods! Really, salad with broiled chicken in a fried chicken restaurant? That alone is enough to put her on Halia’s suspect list.
Following Halia and Wavonne as they figure out who did what and when brings laugh out loud moments along with severe hunger pangs. Luckily, there are recipes scattered through the book plus a few dishes that Halia just tells you how to make Halia’s Sour Cream Cornbread, Sweet Corn Casserole, Fried Chicken Wings, Celia’s Banana Pudding and Sweet Tea’s Special House Cocktail.
I only have two complaints about the book. First, it’s written in present tense (“I’m already tired”) which as a reader, I find very distracting. Still, once Wavonne starts one of her rants, you can forget that part. The other thing is the dessert Celia made one night. Caramel cake. I want that recipe!
Herbert is working on the next in the series, one I’m looking forward to with mouth-watering anticipation.
Stiff Penalty By Annelise Ryan
Review by Cynthia Chow
Previously in the life of Mattie Winston… After marrying the perfect doctor and giving up the job she loved as an ER nurse, Mattie learned that her husband was also playing doctor—just not with his patients. Heartbroken, Mattie’s sanity was saved by the offer of a job as an assistant to the county medical examiner. It would turn out to be a career she grew to love, right up until it had her meeting homicide detective Steve Hurley. While their sexual chemistry was perfectly in sync, their professions were not, so in order to avoid a conflict of interest Mattie resigned. Then the new job offer fell through, Steve discovered that he was still married and had a child he never knew existed, and… Mattie was pregnant.
Mattie voluntarily returns to her psychiatrist, Dr. Maggie Baldwin, and it is in these sessions that she relates the turbulence that has become her recent life. A stalker who may be her father, the case of a murdered high school teacher, and the attempt to still keep her pregnancy a secret has pushed her to the limit of even her formidable denial and coping skills. As chapters alternate between her marathon-long counseling session and the events leading up the present, readers are treated to an entertaining tale of murder, an attempt on Mattie’s life, and how impending motherhood has her completely reevaluating every interaction between parents and their children.
What I absolutely adore about this series is its unpredictability. The lives of the characters never follow a standard formula. In order to battle the cascade of catastrophes she faces in her life, Mattie has developed an understandable black sense of humor (her personal vehicle, for example, is a former hearse). The author’s skill shines through in how, despite the tragedies that should topple a normal person, Mattie continues to maintain her sharp wit and attitude that prevents the novel from ever seeming dark or depressing.
In fact, this is one of the funniest mystery series being written, and the fast pace keeps the reader completely involved in the plot and Mattie’s life. Mattie’s diatribe that debunks the myth of a glowing pregnancy is absolutely hilarious as she lists how her fetus is demolishing her body. Previous installments have always given Mattie an uplifting boost right before pulling the rug out from under her, and here the hits always seem to keep coming at her. Considering a failed marriage, her mother’s four previous husbands and narcissistic personality disorder, and Mattie not knowing the identity of her own father, she doesn’t have the confidence that she could be a successful mother.
Despite her own qualms, Mattie is more than capable of outwitting a murderer while finding her own maternal instincts. Funny, moving, and always following its own unique path, the Mattie Winston novels shine with their realistically flawed human characters and a heroine who continues to grow stronger with every new challenge she faces.
A Healthy Homicide: A Blossom Valley Mystery By Staci McLaughlin
Review by Cynthia Chow
Despite her own penchant for processed junk food, Dana Lewis enjoys working as a Jill-of-all-trades for Blossom Valley’s O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa. As a result, Dana worries when the opening of The Pampered Life, a luxurious all-service spa, has her fellow employees and the owner Esther O’Connell fearing that the rival spa will cut into their profits and maybe put them out of business altogether. Dana’s failed undercover investigation into
The Pampered Life’s services— high-priced botoxing, aromatic salons, and volcanic ash mud baths—alarms her, and while everyone seems to be certain that their offerings will put nails in the coffin of O’Connell’s business, it’s The Pampered Life’s owner Carla Fitzpatrick who meets an early grave.
When it looks as though one of the Farm’s very valuable employees may be implicated in the death, Dana begins to question the fortunately gossipy Pampered Life beauticians and staff. Aided by her boyfriend Jason, the lead reporter for Blossom Valley’s only newspaper, Dana soon discovers that Carla had more than her share of business and personal enemies, and that’s not even taking into consideration a mentally unstable niece.
Dana’s recent declaration of independence had her moving out of her mother’s home but, unfortunately, in with her sister Ashlee. Ashlee isn’t quite the roommate from hell, but her disinterest in chores, affinity for bad reality television, and complete inability to pick up after herself doesn’t make her ideal. Perhaps this is why Dana often finds herself confiding in one of the farm’s resident pigs, Wilbur.
This fourth in the series continues to fit snugly into the cozy novel genre with its quirky characters and its descriptions of both healthy organic and still-tasty over-processed foods, and the occasional over-the-top antics of Ashlee and Dana. Dana is often the sanest character of the bunch, and even she succumbs to behaving less than rationally.
The author continues to highlight the benefits and methods of organic living, conveyed in a way that will interest readers in dipping a toe into the lifestyle. What makes Dana so sympathetic and likable is her affection for her friends and family. Dana’s mother has begun rebuilding her life following the death of her husband, and Dana is growing to appreciate (if not always enjoy) her mother’s new affinity for cooking only healthy food. Dana’s tolerance for Ashlee’s outrageous activities and habit of serial dating the wrong men continues to be tested, but the sisters’ relationship continues to realistically mature. Spa hints, questionable recipes, and evolving characters highlight this enjoyably light-hearted mystery.
Check out this fun quiz for all four of these books on HobbyReads Page: sites.kensingtonbooks.com/hobbyreads.
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 “Kensington,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 14, 2015. U.S. residents only.
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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