by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have three fun chocolate mysteries! The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis, Death of a Chocolate Cheater by Penny Pike, and Truffled to Death: A Chocolate Covered Mystery by Kathy Aarons. Details on how to win copies of all of these books at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.
The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s party time as Amore Chocolates hosts a tasting in celebration of the company’s sixtieth year of providing the finest chocolates to its customers. Invitees have tickets, but it’s easier to let the occasional crasher in than to hold up guests as tickets are collected.
When it’s time for speeches, CEO Joe Merano is nowhere to be found. His absence is easily covered by family members, but it’s noticed by Sophie Winston, the evening’s planner. She knows there’s no way Joe would miss his own party.
Sophie’s got enough going on with visiting chocolatiers in town, but the body of a dead man is found in the guest house right on the heels of Joe’s disappearance. Just the night before, the drunken man had propositioned Sophie (and pretty much any other woman he met). So—is Joe the killer, a kidnap victim, or what?
The Meranos are a dysfunctional family for sure. Coco and Mitch are married but in name only at this point in their lives. Mitch refuses to be divorced, citing his Catholic beliefs. On the other hand, those beliefs don’t prevent him from being with other women.
Sophie’s own life is not without complications. There’s Mars (her ex-husband), Natasha (former BFF, now husband thief), and Wolf (ex-boyfriend, now married to someone else but still yummy). Nina is Sophie’s current BFF, and then there’s Humphrey, a childhood friend. Somehow Sophie ends up acting as social director for all their lives. Alex, her new boyfriend, can’t figure out how she remains friendly with all these odd people (Alex is a lawyer; he likes things tidy). And there are dogs!
Natasha pictures herself as the next Martha Stewart but doesn’t have the skills, though she’s not lacking in imagination. Mars ends up at Sophie’s house often as not, just to get a good meal (Natasha can’t cook worth a darn). With all she has going on, it’s a wonder Sophie finds time to whip up the wonderful meals she’s known for.
Readers will have to pay attention as they read this delightful tale of chocolates, betrayal, and murder. False identities, misdirection, and more, pile on the clues that lead to a satisfying ending. The characters are fun and over the top, but are always people you’d want to hang out with—even Natasha, although you might want to slip her a couple of Valium.
This is the ninth in the series and you’ll want to read them all. Davis has also written two Paws and Claws mysteries.
Death of a Chocolate Cheater by Penny Pike
Review by Sandra Murphy
Rev up the food trucks, it’s time for the chocolate festival! Aunt Abby, her son Dillon, and niece Darcy are determined to win the $10,000 prize—and a chance to be on Food Network’s Chocolate Wars. Abby’s sure her recipe for chocolate raspberry whoopee pies will bring her fame and fortune.
Darcy’s not so sure. Of course, the whoopee pies are great, what’s not to love? And Darcy is appalled at some of the other entries. Really? Chocolate and cheese? Ice-cream cupcakes? A chocolate waterfall? Or chocolate mint pies?
Darcy knows something that Abby doesn’t: Jake, the Dream Puff guy, has entered the contest too. She’s tasted his mocha mousse cream puffs and almost swooned. Of course, the swooning part could be, in part at least, due to Jake himself. It might be time to move their relationship up a notch or two—just as soon as the festival is over.
For two days, contestants will serve their concoctions to the public. On the third day, the judges will taste-test and declare a winner. Abby dated one of the judges back in the day, but before the festival even starts, he’s killed in a hit-and-run accident.
The show must go on! One of the judges, Polly Montgomery, once challenged a restaurant review Darcy wrote (back when she was a food critic, as opposed to a food truck helper for her Aunt Abby). The fact that the restaurant was owned by one of Polly’s exes didn’t escape Darcy’s notice. She can only hope Polly doesn’t see her and take revenge on Abby: Polly is the type to hold a grudge.
When Polly gets fall-face-first drunk at the opening ceremony, festival organizer Reina puts her into a cab and sends her home. It’s a shocker when Polly’s body is subsequently discovered in a vat of melted chocolate. How did she get back into the building and anywhere near the chocolate? Did she fall or was she pushed?
Detective Shelton, Abby’s current squeeze, is assigned to the case, which causes a conflict of interest—he says. It’s best if he and Abby don’t see each other until the case is solved. A quick arrest might fix that situation, except Abby’s sure he’s got the wrong person. Her friend Wendy (chocolate-covered candies) is innocent!
Polly was known to bribe and blackmail her way into whatever she wanted. She promised contestants her vote in exchange for a share of the winnings, snooped into their lives, and browbeat them with their own secrets—one didn’t go to culinary school as advertised, one protests labor practices in the harvest of chocolate but uses them himself, an inventor stole the idea…The only wonder about Polly’s death is why it didn’t happen sooner.
Of course, Darcy’s personal life has to take a hit, too. That’s in the form (and what a form!) of Layla, a local TV reporter and Jake’s ex-fiancée. She needs help with her divorce—of the very man she left Jake for. Darcy is sure Layla is plotting to get Jake back. It’s time to move the investigation into high gear. There are questions to be answered! Was the first judge’s death an accident? Likely. Who had motive? That’s easy: everyone. Who had opportunity? Too many people. Who had the strength to do the deed? That only rules out a couple of suspects.
Once again, Darcy, Abby, Dillon, and Jake manage to make and sell a ton of good food, snoop around, and bring a killer to justice. Dillon and Darcy are getting along better, so he’s able to be a big help with the snooping portion of the investigation. Jake, when he’s not being led around by Layla, is everything you could ask for in a boyfriend—tall, handsome, and he can bake. Abby—well, she’s unique. I’m so glad she’s taken up with Detective Shelton. The romance is good for both of them.
If reading the first book in the series, Death of a Crabby Cook, made you hungry, brace yourself. There are recipes at the back of the book from each of the contestants. Darcy says they tasted much better than they sounded! You’ll drool over every page (and over Jake, too).
As if that’s not enough, in January, Book Three will be out. Look forward to Death of a Bad Apple. I hear there will be salted caramel apple tarts. With all the food festivals around the country, I predict a long shelf life for the Food Festival mystery series.
Truffled to Death: A Chocolate Covered Mystery by Kathy Aarons
Review by Cynthia Chow
Having recently combined their chocolate and bookstore businesses into the unique Chocolate and Chapters, best friends Michelle and Erica are always looking for ways to carry their shop through to the busy Halloween and Christmas seasons. So they agree to host a reception honoring a donation of Mayan art to the Baltimore Museum of Man by the locally prominent River family. Unfortunately, museum curator Dr. Addison Moody more than lives up to his name, and when a valuable piece of art goes missing he immediately blames his former student, Erica. With Michelle’s high school nemesis Reese Everhard lambasting Erica’s reputation in a tabloid blog, Michelle feels that she has no choice but to discover who stole the priceless artifact and eventually resorted to murder.
The eldest River matriarch laments that the Mayan art is cursed, and Michelle can’t argue the point, considering the turmoil surrounding it. She continues to create her Mayan-inspired handcrafted chocolate even as she learns more about the fascinating and controversial world of Mayan artifacts. Dr. Moody’s exploits as a professor have Michelle conflicted, as both she and Erica ponder the ethics of further victimizing his victims. Restraint seems to be the better part of valor as Michelle fears their assistant is making less-than-wise romantic decisions while defiantly insisting the topic is not open to discussion.
There are enough descriptions of delicate chocolate truffles and recipes to please any foodie, but the author delves even further into the exploration of the issues surrounding Mayan art and its trade. Michelle’s relationship with her crush—who also happens to be Erica’s brother—remains stalled by the journalistic investigation that requires him to lay low. The arrival of a vigilante art recoverer only complicates matters and heightens the suspense.
The author’s skillful writing succeeds in blending the cozy theme with an unexpectedly elaborate and very suspenseful plot. While the chocolate confections and recipes will satisfy the most discriminating of tastes, the real characters are the ones who wield a gluttonous amount of witty dialogue and fun.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 chocolate Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “chocolate,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 13, 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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