A Bunch of May Food Mysteries From Penguin

May 16, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Food Fun, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have 5 more new food mysteries from Penguin authors-Flourless to Stop Him: A Baker’s Treat Mystery by Nancy J. Parra, Dark Chocolate Demise: A Cupcake Bakery Mystery by Jenn McKinlay, Sticky Situation: A Sugar Grove Mystery by Jessie Crockett, Fillet of Murder: A Deep Fried Mystery by Linda Reilly, and this one which is actually an April book, Five-Alarm Fudge: A Fudge Shop Mystery by Christine DeSmet. Details at the end of this post on how win copies of all 5 books, plus a link to purchase them.

Flourless to Stop Him: A Baker’s Treat Mystery By Nancy J. Parra
Review by Cynthia Chow

With fifty-two cousins and five siblings, Toni Holmes is accustomed to chaos—and to juggling disasters. Her mother’s will requires Toni to keep her five bedrooms open to her relatives, and with Christmas arriving she can be assured that she will have a revolving door of family guests. Toni’s grandmother, a former journalist, was clever enough to move to a retirement community without a spare room, and no one trusts Grandma Ruth’s scooter-driving skills enough to want to sleep on her floor!

Toni is at the Red Tile Inn on a rare day off (she runs a gluten-free bakery called Baker’s Treat) when a housekeeper finds a dead body. What is far more disturbing is that the room was reserved under the name of Toni’s brother, and the victim was Tim’s estranged best friend. It soon becomes apparent to Toni, if not to the police, that someone is intent on framing her brother for a multitude of crimes.book

Previous investigations resulted in Toni nearly getting herself killed, so here she trusts the police to find the truth. She returned to Kansas following her mother’s death and her own divorce, and is struggling to keep her new business afloat. Grandma Ruth is intent on forcing Toni to get involved, however, and the matriarch is a master at the art of wielding guilt and bulldozing others into doing her will.

As evidence mounts and the future looks bleak for Tim, Toni is further stressed by an unusual visit from her successful New York cousin Mindy McCree, who’s clearly attracted to Toni’s good-looking attorney. So it’s fortunate that Toni has declared a moratorium on dating for one year and has no interest in either the attractive lawyer or the just-as-appealing cowboy rancher. Really!

The importance of families is highlighted in this series, and while Toni’s many relatives intrude on her, it’s expected that family members will rely on each other. Toni doesn’t seem to be able to ask for the same in return, and it’s a challenge for her to go against the tide of opinion against her brother. Just as formidable is educating others on celiac disease and the need for delicious, gluten-free foods.

The characters are humorous and more affable than irritating. Readers will grow to love and appreciate Toni’s extended family, and their interactions prove to be as reliably entertaining as they are ultimately based in love.

Dark Chocolate Demise: A Cupcake Bakery Mystery By Jenn McKinlay
Review by Cynthia Chow

It’s just another day in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the owners of Fairy Tale Cupcakes. Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are busy baking delightful cupcakes, stocking their displays, and propping up their employee in his coffin.

Scottsdale is hosting the first annual Old Town Zombie Walk, and to promote their store Mel and Angie are perfecting their Vanilla Eyeball, Strawberry Brains, and Dark Chocolate Demise cupcakes.

Unfortunately, a real body manages to find its way into their zombie coffin, and the police fear that the DeLauras or Mel could have been the target. In the middle of a big prosecution case against a ruthless mobster, county attorney Joe DeLaura exiled himself from their lives in order to protect the family he loves. He also fled at the moment Mel proposed to him, leaving her confused and heartbroken. The knowledge that he’s been providing her with protection doesn’t numb her pain. book

The many DeLaura brothers move in to the bakery to alternatively protect and consume its tasty treats, but Mel and Angie foil their overbearing presence. Less easy to escape is a real zombie conspiracy theorist, two self-proclaimed zombie hunters, and the one detective who could tempt Mel away from her true love.

This has become a reliably entertaining and well-written series, featuring comical characters, romantic disconnections, and delectable descriptions of food. The author never strays over the line into farce, but the humor and banter between characters always prevail. Mel and Angie’s families have teasing interactions built on long histories together, and now that Angie and her best friend Tate Harper have admitted their true feelings for one another, a wedding is in their future.

The threat against the cupcake bakery’s families heightens the suspense, but it also forces everyone to evaluate what is important in life. The novel’s genuine sentimentality is the icing on the cupcake of this charming and always funny mystery series.

Sticky Situation: A Sugar Grove Mystery By Jessie Crockett
Review by Cynthia Chow

Some seasonal disasters are expected, like hurricanes and tornadoes. For Dani Greene, the calamities that swoop down every March are her great-aunt Hazel and cousin Jade, who can be counted on to bring chaos to New Hampshire’s Sugar Grove Maple Festival. Dani and her sister Celadon are relieved to hear that only Hazel has made it to Sugar Grove this year, but that’s before their unreliable contractor alerts them to the bones he just uncovered in the basement of the town’s opera house restoration project.

It turns out that Garland “Spooner” Duffy didn’t abscond with stolen festival funds in 1984, after all! The charming spoons player and jack-of-all trades was liked by all of the women of Sugar Grove. As it turns out, one of the women seduced by Spooner’s spoon playing was left with a living souvenir, and she demands that Dani discover the truth and clear Spooner’s not-quite-good name. book

As one of the youngest—and smallest—of the Greenes involved in running the family maple tree and sugaring farm, Dani has struggled to prove she has the knowledge and authority to improve the maple syrup production. As the business grows, so does the respect she receives.

The Greene family is wealthy and funnels its profits back into charities benefiting the town. Now as Dani investigates the festival theft and residents’ sex lives, the town and the family aren’t particularly happy with her.

This is a ton of fun for readers, who will enjoy watching Dani question people who’ve known her since she was in diapers. Hazel’s intrusion, and another unexpected development, force Dani to grow up and even move on, although much of that motivation stems from her wanting some much-needed alone time with Fish and Wildlife conservation officer Graham.

Sugar Grove is a place Dani’s always loved and returned to, and it’s easy to understand why. The festival, filled with maple-glazed donuts, maple bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and maple popcorn, is reason enough all on its own. Dani is learning to move on past her childhood memories, be mature, and form new relationships with her relatives.

Fillet of Murder: A Deep Fried Mystery By Linda Reilly
Review by Cynthia Chow

A plucky heroine starting her life over, a cute stray cat, an evil nemesis, and of course a food-related setting. While these are elements common to many cozy mysteries, the triumph of this début series is how the author twists the expected conclusion.

After quitting her unsatisfying job as a real estate broker and breaking up with her boyfriend, Talia Marby returns to her hometown in the Berkshires. As Talia contemplates the next step in her life, she housesits in her late aunt’s home and works in the fish and chips store that was a refuge during a tough period of her youth. dog

Bea Lambert is more than happy to have Talia back in her shop, as it allows Bea the time to care for her ailing husband. Storming into their sanctuary of fried delicacies is Phil Turnbull, the obnoxious but alarmingly handsome owner of a vintage light store. Phil demands that Bea sign a petition banning a comic-book store from the Wrensdale Arcade, and he’s not about to take no for an answer.

When Phil’s body is discovered, circumstantial evidence points toward Bea. Here the novel breaks out of the mold, as Talia doesn’t actively investigate as much as she attempts to simply make sense out of the entire situation surrounding her fellow shop owners and friends. Her naïve assistant Whitnee is uncharacteristically snappy, a creepy clock restorer is lurking, and Phil’s ex-wife gleefully hovers over her inheritance. Talia is at a crossroads in her life, and the author creates a lovely and realistic character depiction.

This is a novel that starts off slowly but grows much stronger through skillful writing and evolving character development. There are no cardboard clichéd characters, and the reader soon becomes fully invested in Talia’s life and the path she’s choosing to follow. Even her appreciation of fried foods adds a layer to her personality, and each new experiment in the kitchen is another step toward her final decision. The adorable stray cat Talia discovers is depicted on the cover, and while this will appeal to cozy-reader fans, they should pay more attention to the noir-looking title that sets the tone. The conclusion is a completely surprising twist, and the myriad of suspects and motivations is matched only by the number of delicacies that can be improved by a deep-fried coating.

Five-Alarm Fudge: A Fudge Shop Mystery By Christine DeSmet
Review by Cynthia Chow

Few can doubt the appeal of divinity candy, but who would have thought it was actually divine? Local lore in Door County, Wisconsin has it that in the 1860s Sister Adele Brise created a foolproof recipe for divinity, one that she shared along with her vision of the Blessed Mother of God. The recent discovery of an antique cup has linked the Oosterling family to royals in Belgium, so this–and the rumored recipe–has Belgian prince Arnaud Van Damme and his mother Princess Amandine planning a visit to their American sister city of Namur. In order to promote both Namur, Wisconsin and Namur, Belgium, the prince hopes to exhibit the priceless recipe and attract countless tourists to both cities. Now all Ava Oosterling has to do is find the recipe! book

Legend has it that Sister Adele hid it in Saint Mary of the Snows church, so Ava and her friends are on a mission to find the recipe in time for the royal visit. As the candy-maker for Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge & Beer, Ava has a distinct interest in the notoriously difficult-to-make candy, but locals are more focused on her recent reputation for discovering bodies. As a result, when Ava uncovers a bloody knife in the church bench, she has mixed feelings about reporting it to the police.

What Ava has no qualms about is covering for her fragile mother when she discovers a body in the Saint Mary of the Snows church.

“Cherry” Hardy was researching cherry production on local farms before meeting his untimely end. Many people liked the friendly University of Wisconsin scientist, but others resented his accusations of harmful chemical abuses. Suspicion falls on a local farm owner, but Ava and her friend Pauline are focused on their nemesis, Fontana Dahlgren. Between fudge and candy-making demonstrations for tourists, Ava rebuilds her relationship with her ex-husband Dillion, and discovers why her grandmother is adamant about making the royal visit a complete disaster.

It may take a few chapters for new readers to adjust to the numerous characters populating Door County, but fans will enjoy the zany exploits of the Oosterlings and their friends. Pauline’s romantic troubles take the forefront and push her over the edge of rationality, so it’s up to Ava to balance out the friendship that has them nicknamed A.M. and P.M. Ava’s devotion to her family is clear and the Oosterlings always stand by one another in times of disaster, of which there are many. DeSmet introduces timely organic-farming topics and blends them into her very lighthearted novel. Humor, impulsive antics, and the devotion to families and heritage all mix together in this sweet mystery.

To enter to win a copy of all 5 food Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “May food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 23, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Click on this link to purchase any of these books:

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 ALWAYS offer us such a choice of very good books, these all sound like great reading!

  2. Oh my! What an awesome collection of books. All of them look amazing, and I am looking forward to reading them. Thank you for the giveaway.

  3. I simply cannot get enough of cozy mysteries—thanks for the chance to win what I’m sure will be fun reads!

  4. These sound like some intriguing families.

  5. Foody mysteries – DELICIOUS!!! And the covers are awesome, too!

  6. I love “foodie” stories. there are usually some good recipes or ideas for meals in them. Thanks for the chance to win all of these.

  7. Lots of good reading, followed by lots of baking! 😉

  8. I do believe just reading about each of these books has given me an extra 5 pounds…and they of course are where I sit. I think each of the books sounds like much fun…would love to win.

  9. Great collection of books…thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  10. These mysteries are truly addicting. Finish one and can’t wait for the neat. Appreciate the giveaways… Thankyou

  11. Wow, a great set of books, they are all on my wish list.

  12. Wow…look at that…please enter me and I hope I get to read them…
    Marilyn ewatvess@yahoo.com

  13. Thanks for entering!
    We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher



  1. Mystery Writer’s Foodie Book Review is Divine | Council for Wisconsin Writers News - […] River Life Magazine of five “foodie mysteries” that includes Wisconsin author  Christine DeSmet’s Five-Alarm Fudge, published by […]

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