by Cynthia Chow
Food mysteries seem to be very popular and many include recipes! Here are a few more new ones for your mystery and foodie fun-Lord of the Pies: A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery by Nell Hampton, Death by Dumpling: A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien, Murder with a Cherry on Top: A Lickety Splits Mystery by Cynthia Baxter, and Playing with Bonbon Fire: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery by Dorothy St. James. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
Lord of the Pies: A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery by Nell Hampton
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the new American chef hired to cook for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (formerly known as Prince William and Kate Middleton), Carrie Ann Cole was hoping to just keep her head down as she prepared family meals for the future kings of England. She’d already been off to a rocky start after discovering the body of her assistant chef, but with that resolved Carrie Ann was focused on planning the perfect pie-themed bridal shower for Penny Nethercott’s sister. In addition to being Carrie Ann’s new best friend, Penny happens to also be the Duchess’s personal assistant, so Carrie needs everything to go smoothly. A kitchen-peeping tom puts an end to her hopes, as written reprimands do less to discourage him than does his fatal collapse into one of Carrie Ann’s lemon meringue pies.
Irritated to once again be a criminal concern for Head of Security Ian Gordon, Carrie Ann dedicates herself to proving that her pie was poison-free and she an innocent bystander. It’s going to be a challenge dodging the fragile egos of her fellow palace chefs, as while she’s sidelined Chef Butterbottom is more than eager to take over. Always eager to prove her skills and worthiness as a palace chef, Carrie Ann competes in a televised charity bake-off that has her facing off against the best to “prove” who bakes the best pies in England. With a Fake News (at least they’re honest about their name) tabloid eager to capitalize on Carrie Ann’s involvement, she will be tested as she guards her ingredients against tampering, protects her kitchen from vandalism, investigates philandering chefs, and of course, prepares the perfect pie crust.
Readers who love restaurant and cooking mysteries will revel in the intrigue within the kitchens of our royal cousins across the pond. Carrie Ann does rather insert herself into the official investigations, but it is made understandable considering her insecurity over the state of her employment. As the only American chef cooking for the palace, Carrie Ann uses her independent streak to bolster her confidence as she faces down condescending male Brits. Carrie Ann is quickly educated on the tenacity and ruthlessness of the tabloid media, a lesson learned memorably and perhaps a little too late. Carrie Ann’s devotion to the art of professional cooking proves to be one of her most admirable qualities, especially when contrasted against the partying habits of her coworkers. Romance seems destined for her future though, and this added spice only enhances a mystery that overflows with a delightful mix of cooking, nefarious characters, and genuine fun.
As a bonus Nell Hampton takes us into Carrie Ann’s kitchen with her Basic Pie Crust recipe along with easy-to- follow directions for a Rum Banoffee Pie (Bananas and Toffee, Oh my!) and Seville Meringue Pie (Orange Delight!). Pie, pie, me o my!
Death by Dumpling: A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien
Review by Cynthia Chow
If not for a trifecta of lamentable incidents, Lana Lee would probably have never returned home to work at her parents’ Chinese restaurant. A breakup, finally-fed-up-to-here job quitting, and Ho-Lee Noodle House losing their full-time waitress all are what led to the twenty-seven year-old spending the last six months working full-time in Northeast Ohio’s Asia Village. Figuring out her life is going to take a backseat to more dire events when a pork dumpling delivery goes horrifically wrong. Everyone in Asia Village knew of the property owner’s shrimp allergy, so when Mr. Thomas Feng has a fatal reaction following his dumpling takeout meal, Lana needs to prove that it was tampered with in order to save the restaurant’s reputation. For while it is the Ho-Lee Noodle House’s cook, Peter Huang, who is brought in by police for questioning, gossip also quickly spreads that Lana may have been an accessory.
Lana may not be the biggest fan of working in the restaurant business, but she loves her parents, and they do love the Ho-Lee Noodle House. With her roommate Megan Riley as an enthusiastic Cagney to her Lacy – or perhaps Laverne to her Shirley – Lana begins to question those who last argued with or had reason to want Mr. Feng out of the picture. Using the Mahjong Matrons as well as the Asian Accents salon for sources of the latest gossip, Lana’s investigation has her butting heads with the annoying handsome Detective Adam Trudeau. Trudeau soon learns that he needs Lana and the Instigator on her shoulder prodding her to intervene; although everyone in Asia Village is talking, no one is talking to the police.
I knew I was going to love this new mystery series, but I never expected just how much. It’s all too rare to see a bi-racial Asian woman in mystery fiction, but what is refreshing is that stereotypes are avoided and just how little her ethnicity matters to her daily life. Lana’s very traditional mother does give her the imperative to hurry-up and get married, but Mrs. Lee doesn’t mind that her other older daughter is single since she’s busy pursuing a higher education. It takes the strong bond of friendship with Megan to pull Lana out of her hermit-like habits, and their evenings out are as enjoyable for readers as they are healthy for Lana. Also delightful is that Lana obviously adores her family, even as her very “big ole white guy” father embarrasses her by calling her his little goober. An adorable black pug named Kikkoman – after the soy sauce – reveals that Lana still very much embraces her family’s business, even though declaring that she is not the typical Asian since she’s bad at math, can’t write in Chinese, and doesn’t know karate. Lana is funny, smart, and relatably insecure ensuring that readers will look forward to spending as much time in her life as possible. This is a wonderfully written debut series that should be on everyone’s reading list.
Murder with a Cherry on Top: A Lickety Splits Mystery by Cynthia Baxter
Review by Cynthia Chow
Kate McKay’s most cherished memories have always involved ice cream. Frozen vanilla bars at amusement parks with her sisters, double dip cones at the luncheonette, and of course, the last birthday ice cream cake prepared by her father before his death. These have all become snapshots of Kate’s greatest loves, and are what helped to cement her decision to move home to Wolfert’s Roost. Although it means giving up a career in the City, moving to help care for her grandmother also allows Kate to open her own dream ice cream parlor. The sour flavor ruining the opening of Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe is the sign in Ashley Winthrop’s bakery suddenly advertising “homemade ice cream.” “Ashcan” was the iconic Mean Girl from high school intent on ruining Kate’s life, and not much seems to have changed. Their feud reignites with an angry confrontation within Lickety Splits and many regrettable angry threats, especially when “Ashcan” is murdered and Kate questioned by the police.
It’s somewhat fortunate that Jake Pratt has reentered her life, despite his standing her up for prom fifteen years ago. Now that the criminal attorney has himself returned to take over his family’s Juniper Hill Dairy, Kate will need his skills for more than just organic milk. Renamed in the manner of nearby Sleepy Hollow to celebrate author Washington Irving, the town of Wolfert’s Roost remains one where gossip spreads quickly and memories last forever. So before she’s found guilty and her ice cream dream ends before it barely starts, Kate will have to prove her innocence, find a killer and – perhaps not unrelated – discover the secret to Ashley’s success. The unexpected arrival of Kate’s niece will have three generations of McKays living together, and while many would chafe at the closeness, these women only find support and a mutual love of frozen confections.
It’s been too long since the last book by the author of the Murder Packs a Suitcase and Reigning Cats & Dogs mystery series, but it has been worth the wait. Readers are introduced to an adorable character whose love of ice cream is closely tied to her beloved family members, and Kate loves nothing more than sharing her affection for the treat with others. Kate finally finds resolution in her relationship with Jake, in a manner that avoids clichés while allowing her reactions to be justified. A swerve in the plot is sure to catch even the most jaded of mystery readers off guard, yet they will have to admit that the clues were there the entire time. This start of a new mystery series is a welcome return of a talented author, one whose skillful writing and character development are worthy of the “guilty pleasure” it celebrates. Readers will revel in the witty dialogue and humor, and indulge in descriptions of innovative dairy delights.
Just like Kate’s desire to share her ice cream delights with friends, so does Cynthia Baxter by including some mouthwatering ice cream recipes from the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe: Brown-Sugar Bourbon Ice Cream and Black Raspberry Frozen Custard. “Cherry on top” is optional!
Playing with Bonbon Fire: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery by Dorothy St. James
Review by Cynthia Chow
Charity Penn is the epitome of the poor little rich girl. Abandoned by her mother, neglected by her father, and disregarded by her grandmother, Penn is wary to trust and suspicious of anyone who attempts to get close. The all-too-brief time she spent with her newly discovered maternal grandmother gave Penn a glimpse into life with a true family, and she hopes to continue the legacy after inheriting Mabel Maybank’s Chocolate Box shop in Camellia Beach, South Carolina. Not yet having mastered the craft of confectionary herself, Penn is helming the inaugural Summer Solstice Beach Music Festival as an opportunity to showcase new savory bonbon delights and attract tourists to local businesses. Penn even enlists her half-sister’s ex-boyfriend, famous pop singer Bixby Lewis, into performing for one of the weekend’s planned concerts. The first sour notes hit when rivalries between bandmates from the sixties reignite, Bixby’s obsessive fans descend upon the town, and a beach bonfire reveals a horrific casualty.
Determined to prove to the judgmental police chief that she isn’t responsible for the increase in crime, Penn begins her own investigation into the pasts of Bixby and the has-been musicians. This is in addition to the mystery Penn pursues as she tracks down her possible mother, a task not made easier with the Maybank siblings contesting the will and refusing to take DNA tests. Penn is accustomed to rejection though, and she’s not about to stop her search for answers to the questions that have plagued her for years. With those past secrets bleeding into the present, Penn’s mission only becomes all the more dire.
Penn struggles with issues of abandonment and trust, which explains why she is often prickly and overly sensitive. Her occasional abrasiveness is offset by the complete acceptance and love of Bertie Bays and her daughter, partners in the Chocolate Box and whose hugs, humor, and embraces are something Penn is learning to tolerate. Penn’s half-sister Tina also proves to be an ebullient counterweight to Penn’s pessimism, pushing Penn to reach out for love and risk new relationships. Penn may have already found that person in her life, she just has to be open to accepting it. Many answers to the mysteries of Penn’s life will be found in this second of the series, but readers will look forward to discovering even more. Penn and even her temperamental Papillion Stella have softened the more they appreciate Camellia Beach, with their willingness to love increasing with Penn’s skill at crafting gourmet chocolates.
Dorothy St. James provides delightful easy-to-follow recipes “snipped from the Camellia Current, Camellia Beach’s local newspaper.” For a savory treat she includes Harley’s Slow Cooker Mole Poblano Shrimp Stew along with Mabel’s Sweet and Savory Cheddar Cheese and Pretzel Bonbons, Penn’s Microwave Bonbon Fire Kindling and Mabel’s Chocolate-Covered Cherry Bonbons. Always a treat!
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “foodie mysteries,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 14, 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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