by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
We have one more group of fun mysteries from Penguin mystery authors-Hiss and Tell by Claire Donally, Ming Tea Murder by Laura Childs, The Book Stops Here by Kate Carlisle, and One Foot in the Grape: A Cypress Cove Mystery By Carlene O’Neil. Details on how to win a copy of all 4 at the end of this post along with a link to purchase them.
Hiss and Tell by Claire Donally
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sunny Coolidge works for Maine Adventure X-perience (MAX for short). Its purpose is to promote tourism, and Sunny’s good at it—but it’s boring compared to her former work as a newspaper journalist. When her dad, Mike, had a heart attack, she went home to help. In the process, she lost a boyfriend (sort of—he wasn’t as close to divorce as he let on) and her job. Now she and Mike live with Shadow the cat, mostly in peace.
Sunny’s new boyfriend is Will, who’s in the middle of an active campaign to unseat Sheriff Nesbit. Will is up-to-date on police procedures, but Nesbit can outpace him in political maneuverings. Sunny’s not sure she’s up for the classic “wear pantyhose, stare adoringly at her man, support his candidacy and eat rubbery chicken” political campaign. The Elmet Ladies have asked Will to speak at their meeting, and since one of the ladies is Mike’s friend, they think the audience will be friendly in spite of Nesbit’s wife being a founding member.
Things go a little off-track when Sheriff Nesbit shows up at the meeting. The Kingsbury family is The Family in town, the beautiful people in the big house. Priscilla is getting married—although, from the outside, it looks more like a merger than a love match. The sheriff is able to use the wedding to his advantage when he appoints Will liaison officer to coordinate security among all the agencies involved—local, state, and federal. It’s a smooth move that says the sheriff has complete faith in Will while exiling him to their compound so he can’t campaign. Out of sight, out of mind.
Ken, editor and jack-of-all trades at the Harbor Courier, shows up at Sunny’s office to make a smooth move of his own. The cameraman he usually uses is unavailable. Can Sunny fill in? The press conference is to talk about Priscilla’s wedding and probably won’t produce much actual news, but it’s good for the local paper to show a presence.
At the press conference, Sunny catches a glimpse of her old, never-got-divorced boyfriend and former colleague. As she tries to avoid him, she meets one of the Kingsbury family members, who offers a tour of the grounds as distraction. All in all, things go fairly well.
Of course, it doesn’t last. Sunny gets a call from Ken at two o’clock in the morning: there’s a disturbance at the compound, can she go with him? To avoid security, they go by boat and see a body being recovered from the rocks below the Point. It’s the best man’s date. Is it a case of accidental death, a misstep after drinking too much, or something more sinister—like murder?
Priscilla is savvier than most people think. She devises a plan to bring Sunny to the compound to write a daily blog for the newspaper about the wedding plans—and will also let her investigate.
This plan meets with nearly everyone’s approval (everyone but Shadow the cat). Ollie, Sunny’s boss, is one of Will’s backers; so he’s on board to loan her to the paper. Sunny’s happy to be back in the faster-paced world of journalism. Nancy, the MAX intern, is glad to have extra hours and more responsibility.
When a second death occurs, it’s definitely murder, and even more shocking than the first. Sunny’s got an inside track to find out who’s behind the deaths—unless the killer finds her first.
Shadow is a treat throughout the book. He’s a determined cat (is there any other kind?) and manages to sneak into Sunny’s suitcase as she packs for a few days at the Kingsbury house. The scene with Shadow at the caterer’s tasting is priceless.
This is the fourth book in the series; The Big Kitty and Last Licks were previously reviewed for KRL. For a good mystery with the added humor of a cat and a great supporting cast, you can’t go wrong with the Sunny and Shadow mysteries.
Ming Tea Murder by Laura Childs
Review by Sandra Murphy
The Gibbs Museum in Charleston is having a black-tie gala to celebrate the arrival of a teahouse imported from China. Since it’s tea-related and Theodosia’s boyfriend Max is the public relations guru behind the idea, she’s on board. Besides, it will do her good to get out of her teashop, and it gives her a chance to mingle with the rich and infamous. Accompanied by her second-in-command, Drayton, Theodosia wants to mingle, support Max, and make as quick an escape as is polite.
One of the evening’s attractions is an old-time photo booth, the kind where you get four black and white photos for a dollar. The guests seem to love it. In search of a few moments of quiet, Theo decides to try the booth herself. Unfortunately, it’s occupied—by the dead body of a man Max argued with just minutes ago.
Considering how many dead bodies Theo has discovered by now, it’s surprising when she lets loose a scream that brings the party to an abrupt halt. The only plus of the evening is that Detective Tidwell is not the responding officer in charge.
The widow, Charlotte, doesn’t seem to be too broken up about her husband’s death. Cecily, his girlfriend, is more upset. Of course, on the other hand, she won’t have to repay the “loan” he gave her to start her own business, although Charlotte may try to get the money back.
Max is not only a suspect due to the argument he had with the victim, he’s also an embarrassment to the museum because of it. In that regard, he’s put on “indefinite leave”—the kind that says “update your résumé and start walking, you’re not coming back here.”
Theo is determined to clear his name and/or restore his job. After all, how many museum jobs are around? If he can’t be rehired, a long-distance relationship is in their future.
I was glad to see Detective Tidwell make an appearance here, after all. Delaine is, as always, present and over-the-top as Theo’s friend. This time she may have met her match, as she’s taking care of her visiting aunt, nicknamed Aunty Acid. Max gets a firsthand look at Theo’s investigative methods and I think he’s both appalled and awed. Earl Grey, Theo’s dog, is always great fun.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a teashop mystery without recipes, so look for the how-to’s for sausage and gnocchi soup, prosciutto and fig tea sandwiches, green tea donuts, cream cheese and strawberry tea sandwiches, Church Street peanut butter cookies, blueberry sour cream muffins, chicken and green goddess tea sandwiches, honey scones, English tea bread, chutney crescents, and cherry banana bread. Childs also includes ideas for themed teas, tea resources, and an excerpt from Parchment and Old Lace, the next installment in her scrapbooking series. Ming Tea Murder is Book Sixteen in the teashop series, many of which were reviewed for KRL. Also enjoy the scrapbooking series (twelve volumes now, the next in October), and the Cackleberry Club series (currently at six books).
The Book Stops Here by Kate Carlisle
Review by Sandra Murphy
Brooklyn not only repairs and restores old books to their former glory, she’s an expert appraiser, too. She’s thrilled to be on the television show This Old Attic to give good (or sad) news to viewers who bring in books in hopes of finding that they own a treasure.
Oddly, some people are dismayed to find their books are worth a lot of money—it takes the pleasure out of owning them, and causes them to worry about insurance and wear and tear. Others are thrilled to find that a flea market or garage sale find turns out to be worth thousands.
One of the thrilled is Vera, a florist. She has a copy of The Secret Garden that she says she found at a garage sale for three dollars—Brooklyn says it’s worth $25,000. Vera wants to sell it as soon as possible. It could use a bit of repair, so she hires Brooklyn to do it, adding to the book’s value.
After figuring the estimated cost, Brooklyn tries to reach Vera to get the okay to go ahead, but there’s no answer. She drops by the flower shop only to find Vera’s body behind the counter. Since the local news covered the story of Vera’s book, was it a case of theft gone wrong—or something more?
Brooklyn’s boyfriend is Derek, a security expert transplanted from England. As things go wrong on the set of the show, too, Derek is hired to provide additional protection for the host as well as support staff—but mostly for Brooklyn. In spite of their heightened awareness, “accidents” keep happening. It could be Vera’s ex-boyfriend after the book, a guest with a grudge, an unhappy employee, or something else entirely.
Meanwhile, on the home front, a new neighbor sublets the unit across the hall. Alex … well, she’s different. She is high fashion all the way, bakes cupcakes to die for in her spare time, is organized beyond belief, and nice to boot. She’s also got an unusual “hobby” and a mysterious background.
This is the paperback release of the eighth book in the series. One Book in the Grave and Peril in Paperback were reviewed for KRL. It’s nice to see the love grow between Brooklyn and Derek. There’s a new character, too—a tiny kitten whose name has yet to be determined. Alex is refreshing (if a bit strange), and Brooklyn’s mom and BFF Robin are always a welcome if somewhat weird (in the case of her mom) addition.
While I managed to figure out part of the mystery, there was a lot left to discover as Brooklyn investigated. Details of bookbinding and how appraisals are done are scattered throughout the book, without ever becoming an information dump—a hard balance to find but Carlisle manages it beautifully. The Bibliophile series is one you’ll want to read and re-read.
One Foot in the Grape: A Cypress Cove Mystery By Carlene O’Neil
Review by Cynthia Chow
It wasn’t that long ago that Penny Lively was a successful photojournalist working for the San Francisco Press. However, digital photography and tabloid culture caused the stubborn, opinionated, and ethical photographer to lose her job and return home to her late aunt’s winery in Cypress Cove, California. This is the first year that Joyeux Winery will be participating in the Autumn Festival, a charity event featuring gourmet cuisine and “informal” wine competitions.
Before Penny can prepare for her debut, Antonia Martinelli comes to her with a request/order. Nearly a dozen barrels of Martinelli Winery’s wines have gone rancid, and Antonia believes that the only cause can be sabotage. A winery’s success depends on its reputation, and Antonia is not willing to risk hers by going to the police. Instead, she demands that Penny use her journalism skills to find the culprit.
Penny owes Antonia for the care given to her aunt, so she’s unable to refuse—even if that means investigating those with the most access to Martinelli wines: Antonia’s three children. Antonia gave up a true love to enter a proper marriage and inherit her father’s winery, and since then the success of Martinelli Winery has been her number-one focus in life. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a dysfunctional family that includes the milquetoast declared heir, a ruthless attorney, and a beautiful, desperate-for-attention, substance-abusing daughter.
When a murder occurs on the winery grounds and an employee points suspicion toward Penny’s niece Hayley, it’s fortunate that Penny is backed by a supportive group of friends, an attractive winery manager, and of course her cat Petit Syrah and malamute Nanook.
Penny is a woman of staunch ethics who will do anything in pursuit of her beliefs. It’s a sign of her twisted sardonic humor that she sees nothing contradictory in this. In order to help Antonia and prove Hayley’s innocence, Penny is willing to cross police tape, do a little breaking-and-entering, and lie, because (1) she is very good at it, and (2) otherwise no one would tell her things that are none of her business. The skills that made her a talented photojournalist are essential in helping her investigate the crimes surrounding the wineries, and her justifications feel entirely plausible and believable.
Even more enjoyable are the details concerning winery operations. Here the author’s experience as a wine specialist shines, and not just with the more familiar aspects of wine tasting–and the tourists who tend to skip the spitting-out part! The author also interestingly compares wineries to farms: a year’s worth of labor all comes down to a few days of critical work, and a change in weather can prove disastrous. This novel accurately reflects the pressure, competition, and pride all vineyard owners have over their crops. Equally delightful is the truly likable heroine, whose intelligence is matched by her wry humor and dedication to upholding her particular ethics and sense of justice.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “More May,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 6, 2015. 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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