More April Penguin Mystery Reviews & Giveaways!

Apr 27, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy

Here is another batch of fun mystery book reviews from Penguin mystery authors! We have The Good, the Bad, and the Witchy: A Witchcraft Mystery By Heather Blake, Curse of the PTA by Laura Alden, Under Currents by Pamela Beason, Going, Going Ganache by Jenn McKinlay, Oak and Dagger by Dorothy St. James and The Homicide Hustle: A Ballroom Dance Mystery By Ella Barrick. Details on how to win copies of all 6 at the end of this post.

The Good, the Bad, and the Witchy: A Witchcraft Mystery By Heather Blake
Review by Cynthia Chow

As an employee of her Aunt Ve’s As You Wish personal concierge business, Darcy Merriweather is charged with the task of making their clients’ dreams come true. However, eighty year-old Harriette Harkette’s request for a buffed birthday male stripper has Darcy second-guessing her decision–it seemed humorous at the time but may not thrill the “of age” client. Shockingly, it is not the geriatric stripper but the birthday cake that causes the most turmoil. Its lack of delivery is due to Darcy discovering the body of the delivery boy–a much-liked young man who had worked for Harriette before his current job at the Gingerbread Shack.

While Darcy’s day job for her aunt consists of following clients’ demands for parties, events, and other assigned tasks, her true calling is making actual wishes come true. Darcy, and her sister, discovered they were from a long line of magical Wishcrafters after their father’s death. Darcy’s wish granting abilities are put aside when Harriette’s daughter, Lydia, hires Darcy to determine if Harriette’s fiancée is a gold-digger after her money. Darcy knows that this will be a challenge, as nearly all of Salem, Massachusetts’ Enchanted Village has taken bets on whether or not the never-seen fiancée even exists.

Darcy is currently dating the Village’s Police Chief Nick Sawyer; both she and Nick would prefer that she remain on the sidelines and leave the murder investigation of Michael the delivery boy to the police. Unfortunately, Darcy is unable to do so–the spirit of Michael, an Illuminator who had the power to glow, has imprinted upon Darcy and remains a heart-thumping, lighted presence that literally pushes her to investigate. Michael had worked at the Harkette’s Elysian Fields greenhouse and her creation of the only true black rose in existence made it a priceless asset valued by many. Complicating matters is the elitism that has Harriette and other Floracrafters prejudiced against, what they consider to be lower-classed, Terracrafters. Harriet has disowned her own daughter for marrying a Terracrafter and remains estranged from her grandsons, one of whom is dating Michael’s sister. The class fracture exists within the ownership of Elysian Fields itself, as Harriette co-owns the greenhouse with the Wicked Widows, one a Floracrafter like Harriette but the other two Terracrafters.

This extremely charming mystery has, in its third installment, created a world of magic with a complex, but very coherent mythology that the reader learns along with new-Crafter Darcy. Crafters must keep their magic a secret from the non-crafters or risk the wrath of the Elder, and letting a spouse in on the secret costs the Crafter the power, but not the ability to pass on the skills to their children. Although her magical abilities take a break as she puts her investigation skills to the test, there are enough displays of talking mice and glowing Illuminators to charm and delight fans of paranormal mysteries. Darcy, her sister, and the other residents of the Enchanted Village are extremely delightful without ever being too cutesy or over-the-top. The ironically–named Glinda Hansel, the town’s newest police officer with magical connections, has designs on Nick and is destined to play a (possibly) menacing role in Darcy’s future. Never worry for Darcy, though. A loner who has recently made many connections with the town, Darcy will not have to face any challenges on her own and will continue to be guided by a surprising, but most supporting secret presence in her life.

This series is full of charm, magic, and delightfully humorous and entertaining characters. The prolific author also writes under the name Heather Webber and is the creator of two other series and numerous romances.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Curse of the PTA by Laura Alden
Review by Sandra Murphy

In this fourth episode of this series, Beth Kennedy is now president of the PTA and wondering why she ever thought she could do the job. Wasn’t two years of being secretary enough? But, here she is, gavel in hand and Robert’s Rules of Order close by, ready to start the first meeting. Of course, the new secretary is a no-show and has sent her letter of resignation with a neighbor. Claudia Wolff wants her choice elected, but so does Beth. Claudia’s none too happy when Beth’s choice, Summer, wins.

Dennis Halpern, a financial consultant, is the guest speaker–explaining the options for investing the money raised by the sale of the children’s self-published book. Claudia can’t let anything Beth does go smoothly and starts a discussion (argument? fight?) that overrides Dennis’ talk. Beth is forced to use the gavel to call for a break and apologize to Dennis.

A ten minute break is all that’s needed for a murder to occur. Beth catches a glimpse of the murderer but mostly, it’s a black blur. It’s no spoiler to say Dennis is the victim (it’s on the back cover of the book), but was it because he was the speaker for the PTA meeting, something to do with his consulting business, or something more personal that involves the many ex-wives and stepchildren in his life? Arson is proven when his office is burned, so it looks like his death was more related to work than not.

In the meantime, Beth’s son Oliver, ordinarily talkative and inquisitive, is looking mighty guilty but won’t say what the problem is. He won’t talk to Beth, his dad, the school counselor or a family friend—this is getting serious. Beth worries—a lot—but then she has reason to because on top of everything else, a rumor is going around that the PTA is cursed. Nobody would believe that though, would they? Attendance is definitely down at the next meeting, so more to worry about. Claudia will make sure of that.

There are problems at the book store too. Beth’s employee is over stressed, so for her own good, Beth fires her. Finding a replacement is harder than anyone thought. In the end, the new employee is the perfect choice—I never would have guessed that one.

The characters of both the adults and the children are maturing in this book. Beth still worries a little too much but things are changing and change is hard. Background characters are stepping into the forefront and will have even bigger roles in the next book—it’s going to be fun to see how that works out for Beth.

Previous books in this series include:
Plotting at the PTA, (reviewed for KRL), Murder at the PTA, and Foul Play at the PTA

Under Currents by Pamela Beason
Review by Sandy Murphy

Summer (Sam) Westin has been hired to tour the Galapagos Islands in the company of Dr. Daniel Kazaki, marine biologist for the controversial Natural Planet Foundation. Sam will write daily blogs under her pen name Wilderness Westin, an expert hiker and kayaker and as her alter ego, Zing, write about diving or snorkeling. A hurried class in diving and Sam feels almost ready.

The Galapagos have been termed ideal for undersea life but poaching, over fishing and tourism are damaging the eco-system. Daniel is there to take an ocean census—how many sea cucumbers are left? Hammerheads? Barracuda? Zing blogs about the dead and dying sharks she sees—finless and unable to swim, attacked by other sharks, all for the infamous shark fin soup.

The fishermen are opposed to the census—violently opposed? Sam and Daniel are evicted from their hotel, the fishing boat is not available to take them to dive locations and Daniel’s scuba tank is filled with more carbon monoxide than oxygen. They manage to hitch a ride with a tourist boat but are all the passengers what they seem to be?

While Sam is out hiking and taking photos for the day’s blog, Daniel dives alone. As Sam kayaks back to the boat, she sees young sea lions diving and racing beneath the water. Closer inspection shows they’re interested in a diver—Daniel—but he’s not moving out of their way. Sam dives in and discovers Daniel’s throat has been cut, air hose too, definitely not the work of sea lions. His death was man-made.

A woman, virtually alone, in Ecuador, and not sure who can be trusted, Sam is at a distinct disadvantage. The police are no help, the American Consulate, even less. When Sam finds out her dive knife and an earring are part of the evidence, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to leave Ecuador, especially since the police refuse to return her passport.

A second story runs parallel to Sam’s and that’s Chase, her FBI boyfriend, undercover as a skinhead against illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico. He and his partner, Nicole, are in the midst of a new group determined to bring jobs back to Americans. Unfortunately, they are not opposed to killing the illegals and stealing any money or drugs they carry with them.

This is one of those books you want to read straight through so you can find out who done it, how and why and if the romance will work or fall prey to time and distance. On the other hand, you don’t want the story to end. It’s definitely not a cozy although the violence is not the in-your-face kind. The reader learns a lot about the delicate balance of ocean life as a seamless part of the story. It balances both sides—the fishermen who need to support their families, the conservationists who want to support the planet and sea life, the greed and callus behavior of those who crave the unusual just because they can afford it, no matter the damage it does.

Previous books in the series include:
Endangered and Bear Bait.

Oak and Dagger by Dorothy St. James
Review by Sandra Murphy

Casey Calhoun, assistant White House gardener, is back and this year is planning a founder’s garden for the First Lady. Things have changed since the First Lady gave birth to twin sons. Her crazy sister, Lettie has come for a visit, much to the dismay of the Secret Service. Milo, the White House goldendoodle, is digging holes in the lawn but nothing like the President himself. While planting small trees to honor the birth of his sons (with the full press corps in attendance), his shovel hits a water pipe and a small geyser of water hits him right in the face. It’s an instant internet sensation. How could Casey have messed up the dig’s location?

The schematic that would show the water pipe location is missing. She’d seen an older version. Frida, curator at the White House, is also missing research papers and has accused head gardener, Gordon of theft.

When the curator is killed and Gordon is found nearby, injured, things get even more complicated. After all, the pool of suspects is small when murder occurs on the White House grounds. Cameras show only Gordon and Frida entered the Children’s Garden. Who else could have done it?

In Casey’s building, there’s a new tenant, Nadeem, a good looking one too. Jack, her Secret Service boyfriend, is none too happy about that. Is it coincidence that the guy turns out to be the new assistant curator at the White House? Is he a suspect too? Does Jack really get much to say about it after Casey saw him at a bar with a hot blonde, holding hands and smooching?

The motive might be Thomas Jefferson’s treasure, reported to have been hidden on the grounds when enemy troops burned the White House during the Civil War. Nobody knows just what the treasure is or where it was hidden but Casey thinks it’s key to the current day murder.

Background stories include a small country’s leader, here to negotiate an oil deal and the theme of fathers or father figures. For a hush-hush meeting, entirely too many people know about the oil deal, including one of the protestors in the park across from the White House. The theme of fathers is a good one although pointed out and emphasized too often and with too heavy a hand. I prefer to see the patterns between relationships as a reader rather than have them handed to me and highlighted on top of that. Some of the plot stretched believability beyond its limits.

I do like the characters and see the progress they are making in their lives. This is an enjoyable series that I’ll read again—I just hope Casey isn’t quite so casual, at least while in the White House, in future episodes.

Previous books in this series are: Flowerbed of State, (reviewed for KRL) and The Scarlet Pepper.

Going, Going Ganache by Jenn McKinlay

Review by Sandra Murphy

Angie and Mel are the focus of a feature article in Southwest Style magazine and that means a photo shoot. Mel thought it would be a few pictures snapped as they worked. They’d be wearing the usual t-shirts and jeans with the logo apron showing prominently—but no. The magazine people decided on more and the whole editorial staff has shown up to make it so. The magazine’s new owner is on site and everyone wants to shine. Too bad it’s apparent they all hate each other.

Fifties attire, including turning Angie into Big Hair Angie, was not part of the plan. Standing out in the hot sun and trying not to melt wasn’t either. No wonder tempers flare when Olivia Puckett, arch rival of Fairy Tale Cupcakes shows up and tries to steal the limelight. One thing leads to another and the ensuing food fight put a definite end to the shoot. To smooth things over with the magazine people, Tate agrees to supply 1,000 cupcakes for a charity event—and let the editorial staff help bake as part of a team building exercise.

Things go from bad to worse as Amy doesn’t play well with others, Brigit has history with the new boss and maybe a current staffer, and then there’s the murder. That can put a damper on the best baking day.

To top things off, Tate decides to take a remark Mel made to heart and have a mid-life crisis, mid-bakery crisis. He moves out of his penthouse, sells his car, and quits his job at the family business. What next? Angie thinks it’s a cool move. Mel doesn’t but has her own personal problems to figure out.

Mel’s secretly engaged to Joe, Angie’s brother. She’s loved him since she was twelve years old, her mother approves of him, he has a great job and is thoughtful in every way. Even Captain Jack, their jointly owned cat, adores him. So why is Mel so attracted to Detective Martinez? They didn’t even get along the last time. Now he’s Uncle Stan’s partner and getting entirely too close for comfort.

So, solve the murder, prevent another from happening, including Angie and her mother killing her when they find out about the secret engagement to Joe, bake and decorate 1,000 cupcakes, find out how Olivia knew about the photo shoot including the fifties outfits, figure out where Tate’s head is and broker a reconciliation between Tate and his parents, and figure out what to do about Joe and Martinez; is that all that’s on Mel’s To Do List? Should be enough!
The characters are developing nicely, the killer was a total surprise to me, as was the source of Olivia’s information. I missed Angie’s brothers (she has a lot of them) this time but really, the book was so jam packed with action, I don’t know where they would have fit in. The best part is, there are recipes included at the back of the book. My biggest upset with the book is the cliffhanger ending. There is an excerpt from the next book but it doesn’t give a clue. I can’t wait for it to come out.

Recipes include: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting, Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting, Corn Cupcakes with a Honey Brown Butter Frosting, Pistachio Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Fig Frosting.

Coming soon from Berkley Prime Crime, Sugar and Iced.
Previous Cupcake Bakery mysteries are: Sprinkle with Murder, Buttercream Bump Off, Death by the Dozen, Red Velvet Revenge (reviewed in KRL)

The Library Lover’s Series:
Books Can Be Deceiving, Due or Die, Book, Line and Sinker

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her new one Bananas Foster.

The Homicide Hustle: A Ballroom Dance Mystery By Ella Barrick

Reviewed by Cynthia Chow

It was only a matter of time. Anastasia “Stacy” Graysin, ballroom dance instructor and owner of the faltering dance studio Graysin Motion, has been asked to be a professional dance partner for the television reality show Ballroom with the B-Listers. Not only will this hopefully promote the studio, but the winning prize money would definitely help with the back taxes her great-aunt apparently decided to withhold from the city for its refusal to fill potholes. Although fans call the show “Blisters” and calling the celebrities “B-Listers” might be overly generous, Stacy cannot fault the selection of her partner. Zane Savage was the former teen-heartthrob star of Stacy’s favorite television drama and still makes both her and her sister Danielle’s hearts flutter.

While the producer Nigel Whiteman welcomes Stacy to the world of reality television by asking her to stage a wardrobe malfunction and encouraging scripted confrontations with rival dancers and dance studios, Stacy finds the co-producer Tessa King refreshingly likable and down to earth. Unfortunately, Tessa misses their first press conference due to being dead, and it turns out that there was more to one side of the ambitious and at times ruthless television magnate.

As much as Stacy needs to win the , she finds herself distracted by the attentions of Zane, which riles up jealousy not only in (the now possibly single) Danielle, but also in Stacy’s new partner in the dance studio, Tav Acosta. While the pair has flirted with attraction, Tav being the half-brother of Stacy’s late and cheating ex-fiancée has prevented their relationship from going any further. Tav also does not approve of her recently discovered talent for meddling in murder investigations, and his need to protect Stacy may put both their friendship and the studio’s future at risk.

Reality television is a world ripe for satire and full of potential for murder, but it’s a delicate line between parodying and just mimicking the characters verbatim. Barrick, succeeds in making the most of her cast of attention-desperate “celebrities”, who will do anything to get back in the limelight. Stacy’s own fellow dance instructor Vitaly Voloshin is partnered with an Amazonian action star, while rival dance studios assist a disgraced television evangelist, a pet psychic, and a former Disney star. Danielle is determined to make a connection with Zane, and that has Stacy at her wit’s end, and all of the machinations of scripted reality television definitely do not help her keep her focus on either her dancing or the investigation.

Stacy herself is something of a flawed heroine. Even though she is not yet thirty, her career as a professional dancer has her focused on her appearance and body-hugging costumes, with the result that she is vigilant over her diet and weight. However, this is a refreshingly realistic contrast to the heroine, often seen in fiction, who guzzles fast food like a truck driver and yet somehow manages to keep her size six figure. Stacy also makes numerous impulsive and less-than-sensible decisions to save her dance studio, including not reporting a threat and confronting a drug dealer at night. Her jealousy over Zane creates a rivalry with her sister, despite Stacy’s acknowledgement that any relationship between herself and the celebrity would be temporary and at the mercy of their careers.

Anyone who enjoys reality television will revel in this mystery, and fans of mysteries will similarly enjoy the elaborate network of characters with multiple motives for wanting Tessa dead. The reveal of the culprit will be sure to surprise readers, but they should not feel cheated as a trail of clues is craftily laid by the author. Barrick has slowly developed the relationship between Tav and Stacy at a believable pace, making the progression believable and realistic. Danielle is both irritating and sympathetic, and the rest of the characters are similarly complex but delightful. This is a fun mystery, full of humor that entertains, with a cast of quirky eccentrics with a passion either for dance or celebrity. Ella Barrick also writes mysteries under the name Laura DiSilverio, and although she is not a dancer she is a fan of Dancing with the Stars.

To enter to win a copy of all 6 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “April,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 4, 2013. U.S. residents only.

More mystery reviews, short stories, articles and giveaways can be found in this issue, and those and others can be found in our mystery section.

Use this link to purchase the above books & a portion goes to help support KRL:

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).


  1. You all see to get some of the most wonderful books to put into contests.

  2. Nice reviews. I like mysteries.

  3. First of all, thanks KRL, for doing this great mystery giveaway, for your readers. I love great mystery, that draw the reader, into the book, like you are a part of it. April giveaway, mystery seem to have some great humor in them. I can’t wait to read, them.

  4. Can’t have to many mysteries! Thanks for this giveaway!

  5. Nothing like a selection of outstanding mysteries to liven spring and summer reading. Would like to read any of the offerings & review.

  6. I love a good mystery, Excellent article. Thanks to you and the authors for doing the giveaway.

  7. Wow-I want to read all of these!!

  8. Great giveaway..Thanks for sharing it with all of us!!

  9. Wonderful books. Thanks for a chance at the giveaway.

  10. Several of these books are already on my reading list! Can’t wait to get to them! So many books, so little time! Thanks for the contest. 🙂

  11. Love these reviews. I have read both Heather Blake and Jenn Mckinlay’s books and loved them! Looks like I will be adding more new authors to my list.

  12. Thanks so much for reviewing all of these mysteries! I’ve added them to my to-read list and would love to win them. 🙂

  13. I love all of these mysteries and thanks for the giveaway.

  14. What a great place for reviews of all my favorite series.

  15. This is an awesome opportunity to win some really good books!

  16. I do love finding new blogs with reviews of books I enjoy. Found some new-to-me authors and series….also diggin’ the authors and series new books. Can’t wait to read them. Fingers crossed!!

  17. What a fun collection, It would make for some fine reading.

  18. Thanks so much for all of you entering this contest–we seem to be having been, great contests like this pretty much every month, plus a bunch of other great mystery reviews, giveaways, stories and articles! Hope you keep coming back
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher

  19. great reviews

  20. WOW!!!
    another great selection of books for the giveaway!!

    thank you!!!!

  21. What great books, thanks for the chance to win!

  22. These all look like great reads…would love to have them!! – hint hint!

  23. they sound great thanks for the giveaway

  24. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Winner


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