by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Here are the first of the May Penguin mystery releases we will be featuring this month. We have Death of a Mad Hatter: A Hat Shop Mystery by Jenn McKinlay, A Dollhouse to Die For: A Deadly Notions Mystery by Cate Price, and A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle. Details on how to win copies of all three at the end of this post! Also, use the link below to purchase these books, or any others, and a portion goes to help keep KRL going.
Death of a Mad Hatter: A Hat Shop Mystery By Jenn McKinlay
Review by Cynthia Chow
While a disastrous breakup with her boyfriend made Scarlett Parker an internet sensation and sent her to England with a moratorium for one year on dating, she is now in a much better place with new friends. Scarlett has since joined her cousin, Vivian Tremont, in running the millinery business they inherited from their grandmother. At Mim’s Whims, Viv is the designing genius and Scarlett the people-friendly face of the store.
For someone trained in hospitality though, Scarlett has no tolerance for martyrs or fools, which definitely tests her patience as she meets their latest client, Dotty Grisby. Believing that Viv is her grandmother, the addled Dotty hires the cousins to design hats for the fundraiser she is hosting in honor of the husband who left her for his mistress over thirty years ago. The Grisby family will test all of Scarlett’s customer service skills as they squabble over the inheritance that has been left to the eldest son Gregory, a germophobe who is obnoxious and possibly abusive to his wife, Tina.
While the Alice in Wonderland-themed hats designed by Viv are an unequivocal success, the fundraising tea party ends with Gregory’s death and the police wanting to know how the hat he wore was connected to it. The police and the cousins’ friend, Harrison, are adamant that Scarlett and Viv stay uninvolved despite the fact that their hats may have played a role. However, Scarlett’s stubbornness and sympathy for Tina mean that they will be investigating the Grisby family and their many secrets.
This very modern mystery has lots of fun exploring the classic set-up of a family inheritance, infidelities, sibling rivalries and romantic jealousies. Scarlett is a very fun and likable heroine whose professional training clashes with her personal pet-peeves and assertiveness. She also may have inadvertently broken Harrison’s heart when she was ten years old, but as an adult she still has a difficult time admitting her jealousy and risk being hurt once again.
The contrast between the insanity of the Grisby family and the witty banter and support of Scarlett and her new friends is vivid and thoroughly enjoyable. The dialogue is very funny, the characters fully developed, the plot entirely unpredictable and completely engaging. The presence of the cousins’ grandmother is continually felt within their store, and the charming mix of humor, mystery and a hint of romance make this a read that will please many. It’s impossible not to fall in love with McKinlay’s characters and readers will be fully invested in following all of their many adventures.
Jenn McKinlay is the author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, the Library Lover’s Mysteries, and also writes under the names Lucy Lawrence and Josie Belle.
A Dollhouse to Die For: A Deadly Notions Mystery By Cate Price
Review by Cynthia Chow
After they retired, Joe Daly convinced his wife, Daisy Buchanan, to move from New York to their summer home in Pennsylvania. There, Daisy transformed her love of collecting into Sometimes a Great Notion, a store specializing in antiques, sewing items and other miscellaneous and unusual things. Daisy’s newest passion has her purchasing a dollhouse intended as a birthday gift for a young friend, and even the outrageously excessive offer by Harriet Kunes to purchase it can’t dissuade Daisy from her intention to restore and redecorate the tiny home.
When Daisy and Joe attempt to return Harriet’s glasses they instead find her electrocuted to death while clutching one of her many dollhouses. The attempt by a burglar to steal the dollhouse out of Daisy’s store ensures that both she and the “studly” Detective Tony Serrano connect the crime to Harriet’s death. However, while Tony circles around the much younger husband Harriet was unwilling to divorce, despite–or perhaps, because of–his desire to marry his mistress, there are enough rival competing collectors, as well as a sister who feels cheated out of her inheritance, to make guilt uncertain.
Daisy had purchased the dollhouse and other items from the estate sale of Sophie Rosenthal, an agoraphobic friend of Harriet’s. Shockingly, Daisy learns that Sophie held the store’s monthly lease and now Sarah’s nephew and heir intends to drastically raise the rent and probably force her out.
The desire to restore the dollhouse takes Daisy to the Seventh Annual Dollhouse and Miniatures Show where the temptation to spend money buying charming replicas is as dangerous as her questions. Curiosity takes her to a dog park gathering place for wealthy social climbers who are more than willing to dish gossip as they guzzle wine and watch their dogs play.
What is so refreshing about this series is that it features a longtime happily married couple who realistically confront the day-to-day struggles of a partnership even when not investigating a murder. Married for over thirty years, Daisy and Joe are still passionately in love and distinctly aware of each other’s eccentricities and quirks. When it comes down to it, Daisy and Joe’s biggest arguments stem not from her need to investigate a murder but from their differences in how they handle their own finances. Just like real life! This second in the Deadly Notions series has fun exploring adult relationships as well as humorously revealing the very many forms obsessions take in everyday life.
A Cookbook Conspiracy By Kate Carlisle
Review by Sandra Murphy
This is the sixth book in the series and my favorite so far. Brooklyn is more comfortable in her relationship with the ever-so-handsome Derek and she’s trying to teach herself to cook. Let’s just say it’s a wonder the garbage disposal can digest her mistakes. Maybe she should just stick to bookbinding.
As you might remember from previous reviews, Brooklyn is the daughter of a couple of hippie-style parents, lives in California and her passion (besides Derek, of course) is books. She restores old books to their former glory by gently taking them apart, thread by thread, recreating a cover or removing foxing (those little brown age spots) and then reassembling them.
Her sister Savannah is hosting a vegetarian meal at BAX, Baxter Cromwell’s newest restaurant. Baxter, Peter, Kevin (a woman) and Savannah all went to culinary school together. The meal is one of a scheduled series–all the chef friends are scheduled for a turn to draw attention to BAX. Of all of the chefs, Baxter is the most successful–he has television show, multiple restaurants and a hateful little personality.
Savannah and Baxter have a past. While at culinary school in Paris, they had an affair. Brooklyn visited and Baxter made major moves on her. Well, that’d an understatement! He tried to crawl into bed with her while she was asleep. For a bit, Savannah blamed Brooklyn, but then admitted Baxter was a louse and she was well rid of him.
Savannah does have one remembrance of her time with Baxter though, an old cookbook, as in over two hundred years old. She asks Brooklyn to restore the book in time for the opening night at BAX. However, the gift is not the success she had hoped. Baxter goes noticeably pale, Kevin fires off looks that could kill and Brooklyn wishes Savannah had donated the cookbook to a museum instead.
It’s no surprise that Baxter ends up dead on the kitchen floor after hours. Worse news, at least as far as Brooklyn is concerned, Savannah is the prime suspect. She had blood on her hands and in fact, was holding the huge fish knife when Brooklyn found her kneeling next to Baxter’s body.
Clues are few and far between as all the chefs lie about their relationship with Baxter, the cookbook is missing, one chef tries to throw everyone else under the bus when she’s interrogated and Brooklyn has to prove Savannah didn’t do it, no matter how bad things look.
There’s a nice visit to Brooklyn’s family, Guru Bob is back and Mom is still casting spells. The cookbook figures prominently of course, a nice combination of the theme of the series with a new aspect to keep it fresh while letting the reader get to know Savannah better. Warning: the food talk will make you drool!
Each chapter starts with a quote from the old cookbook. My favorites were “Rub all things with butter” and “In preparing hare soup, if you disapprove of the red herring, leave it out.” An appropriate comment for a mystery book I thought!
We also get to meet Derek’s brother, Dalton, a cryptographer for MI6. The cookbook has some kind of code in the margins–Brooklyn thought they were doodles–and Dalton is hooked. Luckily, Brooklyn copied the pages as she restored. It’s more than a cookbook, it’s part journal as well. The code is not the only thing that Dalton is hooked on though. The moment he saw Savannah, he fell hard. Where will their romance take them? He lives in England while she has a restaurant in California. Hmm, shades of Derek and Brooklyn!
The first murder was of the he-had-it-coming variety but the second was a sad thing. The ending is a mix of both and one I didn’t see coming. There’s an obvious suspect who I dismissed because of being obvious, but like Brooklyn and Savannah say, the rest of the chefs are likable people. It’s a shame that one of them is a killer, isn’t it?
Previous books include Homicide in Hardcover, If Books Could Kill, The Lies that Bind, Murder Under Cover, Pages of Sin (an e-book novella), and Peril in Paperback, One Book in the Grave, both reviewed for KRL.
Bonuses at the back of the book include an excerpt from the next book, The Book Stops Here, coming in June. In it, Brooklyn is the book expert on an Antiques Roadshow type program. There’s also an excerpt from A High End Finish, the first in the new fixer-upper series, available in November. You’ll like Shannon Hammer, renovations expert.
Of course, since Savannah is a chef, there had to be recipes too–Brooklyn’s Syllabub, vintage Syllabub recipes from the cookbook, Mom’s Apple Crisp (Derek loves it), Savannah’s Coleslaw, Brooklyn’s blooper guacamole dip, pasta with Italian sausage (don’t worry, Savannah taught her how to make it).
To enter to win a copy of all 3 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “May,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 10, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!