by Kathleen Costa
& Amy Patricia Meade
This week we have a review of another fun food mystery, Cookin’ the Books by Amy Patricia Meade. We also have an interesting guest post by Amy about her book. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a signed copy of Cookin’ the Books (the book will be coming from the UK so may take longer to get to the winner), and a link to purchase it from Amazon and from an indie bookstore.
Cookin’ the Books: Tish Tarragon Mystery By Amy Patricia Meade
Review by Kathleen Costa
Deliciously Wicked Mysteries
Letitia “Tish” Tarragon divorced a year ago and moving on entails opening up a restaurant and catering business in a historic early twentieth century clapboard building in Hobson Glen, Virginia. Cookin’ the Books Café combines the best of two worlds…books and food. She has labeled herself and her style as a “literary caterer.” She can provide a Midsummer’s Night lawn party, Great Gatsby gala, Wonderland tea party, or a Christie-inspired murder mystery dinner. She also has cookbooks from around the world and a lending library for all to enjoy. Along with the literary theme and delicious food creations, she has a couple of friends to provide her with personal and professional support. Mary Jo “MJ” Okensholt, BFF, and Julian “Jules” Jefferson Davis, Channel Ten weatherman and cocktail designer extraordinaire. What a great way to start a new series!
Cookin’ the Books earns 5/5 Spicy Sauce Squirts…Clever Fun and Entertaining!
Tish’s first catering job is for three hundred guests at the annual Hobson Glen Library’s fundraising dinner, but dealing with Binnie Broderick has been a challenge. She’s not interested in books (Yes, it is ironic that she works on behalf of a library), and she tried to lowball Tish on the catering. But, rumors indicate Tish is not alone. Binnie is also a challenge, thorn, adversary, target? for many locals: the mayor and half of the town council, Enid Kemper and Langhorne her parrot (Oops, Conures!), several browbeaten family members, and…ok, I guess everyone. However, despite a storm and power challenges, the event is a huge hit. Everyone is enjoying such delicious food cleverly named for literary works from For Whom the Vegan Stuffed Bell Pepper Tolls to The Old Man and the Sea Bream, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Baked Ham on Cheesey Edgar Allen Poe-lenta to Finnegan’s Cake, and liberally pourings of Tequila Mockingbird cocktails. Binnie, of course, is still a challenge commenting that the food is only satisfactory and demanding hot sauce. Then gurgling, gasping, face planted in The Prime Rib of Miss Jean Brodie…Binnie is no longer a challenge!
Amy Patricia Meade has made a fan out of me penning a great first book! The mystery was compelling, and I totally enjoyed the clever puns for the food creations. Amy’s well-written style is punctuated by an entertaining first-person narrative sharing Tish’s inner thoughts, insights, and laying out various suspects, motives, and scenarios. Although she included vivid descriptions and engaging banter, it seems…did I missed out on some of the connections between the characters? Some additional earlier description might have made it easier, but it didn’t in any way interfere with my enjoyment. I love culinary-themed cozies mentioning food, serving food, eating food, and maybe having food posing as the murder weapon…yum! But, I love having something extra added to my cozy book, and that’s the one thing missing from Amy’s book. There are no recipes for the cleverly named creations Tish created for the dinner or her café menu. It’s not a big deal, nor does it detract in any way from my eagerly recommending the book.
Alert! This September book two, The Garden Club Murders, in her Tish Tarragon Mystery series will be released…Yeah!
Be a Big Fan!
Amy Patricia Meade started her writing career with the critically acclaimed four-book Marjorie McClelland Mystery series in 2006 with the first book, Million Dollar Baby, set in post-prohibition. She also penned a two-book Pret’ Near Perfect Mystery that started with Well-Offed in Vermont (2011), and Don’t Die Under the Apple Tree (2012) in her Rosie the Riveter following Rosie O’Doyle Keefe working in the shipyards during WWII. Reviews make these series well worth exploring!
How Cookin’ the Books Came to Be
By Amy Patricia Meade
Despite its small town Virginia setting, Cookin’ the Books was a novel conceived in two different states and written on two separate continents.
My husband and I had recently moved from southern Vermont to Williamsburg, Virginia, when I answered my agent’s call about a publisher’s call for a mystery featuring animals and a small town veterinary office. My sample pages for the veterinary mystery were ultimately rejected by the publisher, but my agent and I so loved the central characters of Julian ‘Jules’ Jefferson Davis, Mary Jo Okensholt, Celestine Rufus, and at that time veterinarian Philippa Reed, that we determined they needed their own series and a setting more familiar to me than that of a west coast animal clinic.
During a flurry of pre-Christmas emails exchanged while I was visiting family in Vermont, my agent finally asked: “Aside from crime writing, what are you passionate about?” The answer was clear to anyone who’s even glanced at my social media accounts. Cooking. What if we changed the veterinary clinic to a restaurant?
But what kind of restaurant? A breakfast joint? A tea shop? A diner?
As my agent had recently become enamored with a bar book of literary-inspired cocktails, we opted to make the setting a literary café that served as an impromptu library and also provided catering services.
Having fallen in love with my new home state of Virginia, the location of that café was an easy one. Settling on a specific city was a bit more difficult. As much as I loved Williamsburg, the historic area was far too quaint and its environs far too suburban to host the characters I had in mind. Richmond, Virginia, was historic and cosmopolitan, yet just quirky enough to fit the bill, but the restaurant business is highly competitive there, so I opted to create the fictional town of Hobson Glen and set it far enough outside Richmond that a violent crime would be considered shocking, yet close enough to metropolitan life to provide my protagonist’s business (both catering and sleuthing) with sufficient clientele.
With the theme and setting determined, I returned home from Vermont and set to work on a synopsis and the sample pages. First, I needed a new, non-equine name for my protagonist, so the dark haired Philippa Reed became the blonde cook, Letitia ‘Tish” Tarragon. (As cooks seldom waste ingredients, ‘Reed’ would be recycled as ‘Reade’, the surname of Cookin’s local sheriff). From there, I built the town of Hobson Glen. Langhorne, the conure featured prominently on the book’s cover and spine, was inspired by a green parrot I encountered riding his owner’s shoulder on Richmond’s Cary Street on New Year’s Day. I wasn’t sure how I’d work a conure into the plot, but I just simply knew he had to be there.
The remainder of the characters stemmed from the character of the victim, Binnie Broderick. I wanted to depict Binnie as an odious, narrow-minded, hateful woman with little to no redeeming qualities, so I thought of ways in which she could have terrorized this small town through the years and then wove those stories and their players into the narrative.
With everything in place, I sent my submission packet to my agent who, in turn, shopped it to publishers. I, in the meantime, tried to live my life and not dwell on the submission process. Little did I know that living my life would entail another move, this time to the United Kingdom.
It was a few months after our arrival in southwest England when I again heard from my agent, this time asking me to complete the entire manuscript for a publisher who didn’t accept partial submissions.
And so, in my new office overlooking the English Channel, I imagined Tish Tarragon hunting down a murderer during a stifling hot Virginia summer, added another 60,000 words to the initial fifty pages of Cookin’ the Books, sent it off to my agent, and crossed my fingers. In the end, the original publisher didn’t accept the final manuscript, but luckily, the wonderful people at Severn House Publishing did.
And that is how a native New Yorker wrote a cozy culinary mystery set in the south, and saw it printed by a British publisher.
To enter to win a copy of Cookin’ the Books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “cookin’,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 16, 2019. Those in the US, Canada, and the UK can enter this one. If entering via comment please include your email address. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so we have it if you win, it will not be used for any other purpose). You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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