by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have a fun group of food mysteries for your Father’s Day feasts-Deadly Feast: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette, Dying for Devil’s Food: A Cupcake Bakery Mystery by Jenn McKinlay, The Diva Sweetens the Pie: A Domestic Diva Mystery by Krista Davis, Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches: A Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery by Karen Rose Smith, and Sconed to Death: A Cat Latimer Mystery by Lynn Cahoon. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
Deadly Feast: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
Key Zest magazine food critic Hayley Snow couldn’t have a more perfect fiancé. Not only did Nathan Bransford put aside his abhorrence of houseboat living to embrace the lifestyle of his future bride, he purchased a rundown boat so that they could move in next “door” to her current roommate, octogenarian Miss Gloria. Hurricane Irma unfortunately put a halt to the renovation plans that would have made the boat livable before the wedding, and with only a week to go until the ceremony Hayley is trying to put her problems in perspective. Her dilemmas seem minuscule when on a seafood walking tour for the magazine, Hayley sees one of the participants collapse at the last stop. Hayley’s police officer fiancé is keeping mum about the details, but she’s unable to stay uninvolved when her friend running the tour pleads for Hayley’s help. Despite initial findings that Audrey Cohen died of a stroke, the tour leader’s concerns have Hayley meeting with the chefs along with the victim’s relatives.
As Hayley gets further pulled into the investigation, she finds herself examining the institution of marriage and her own relationship with Nathan. While her parents have each found happiness in their second marriages, Hayley can’t help but still feel the effects of their initial divorce. Through pre-marital counseling and advice from her friends, she learns that trust evolves between partners and only through honest sharing can a relationship succeed. That’s going to be challenging as Hayley continues to be involved in Audrey’s death and Nathan’s secretive job prevents him from spending time with her family. With Thanksgiving days away and their ceremony scheduled on Black Friday, it’s a wonder that the pressure to write her article, investigate a death without involving the police, and maintain her relationship doesn’t send her over the edge.
This series has always been outstanding at examining serious topical issues without distracting from the very fun foodie setting. It shouldn’t be surprising that the #MeToo movement effecting some of today’s most famous chefs has spread to the Florida Keys, where successful female chefs had to come up through the ranks as “one of the boys” by tolerating sexism and harassment. Quotes from some of the best in food writing – as well as from the author’s alter ego Roberta Isleib – begin each chapter and thoughtfully tantalize and enhance the narrative. While the descriptions of some of Florida’s unique cuisine are undeniably mouthwatering, it is the progression of Hayley’s character that is truly outstanding. Both psychology and tarot cards have helped her mature and develop her instincts, although the most wisdom has come from her closest friends and family. Hayley has more than earned her happiness as she takes the next step in her life, and readers are fortunate to be along for the ride. Amazing recipes, a vividly depicted setting, and an absolutely charming heroine all ensure for a deliciously satisfying read.
Recipes included are easy-to-follow gems: Chef Martha’s Key Lime Pie (courtesy of Martha Hubbard), Smoked Fish Dip, Mojito Cookies, Pecan Pie Bars, Sam’s Cornbread Sausage Stuffing, Butternut Squash Pasta with Leeks and Fried Sage, Hayley Snow’s Holiday Pumpkin Pie, Decadent Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, and Strawberries and Lime Sponge Cake Wedding Trifle.
Dying for Devil’s Food: A Cupcake Bakery Mystery by Jenn McKinlay
Review by Cynthia Chow
For Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery owner Melanie Cooper, high school was a torturous era of being bullied by Mean Girls, taunted with the name “Melephant,” and mooning over her crush Danny Griffin. It’s why the baker has no intention whatsoever in attending her 15th high school reunion, despite her BFF Angie Harper’s declaration that this is the perfect opportunity to show off all that they have achieved and how far they have come. Sure, Melanie is engaged to Angie’s hot brother Joe DeLaura and would love to parade him around, but it’s not until Melanie is manipulated into catering the event at a hefty profit that she reluctantly agrees to attend. The reunion is initially as horrific as Melanie could ever have imagined, with the taunting beginning just as it ended 15 years ago and led by the viciously cruel Cassidy Havers-Griffin. A dance with Danny and triumphant standoff against Cassidy makes it all worthwhile for Melanie, though, at least until she stumbles across her bully’s body in the women’s restroom. A cupcake and lipstick message have Mel immediately targeted by a jealous detective, but a passed lie detection test gives Mel a moment to breathe.
Mel knows that suspicion will linger until the real culprit is discovered, so she and her friends begin to do a little discreet surveillance at Cassidy’s wake and funeral service. Mel, Angie, and their third Musketeer Tate Harper soon learn that Cassidy was more feared than liked, and that her manipulative ways had even those closest to her unwilling to cross her. That doesn’t mean that Cassidy still didn’t have the power to lure suitors, and Mel worries that one of her friendlier classmates may now be arrested for murder.
I have to admit, scenes of Melanie being bullied by her former classmates ignited a visceral reaction, with the verbal abuse and taunts making me squirm. These moments are thankfully brief as it’s not long before Mel comes to the realization that to take away all of the bully’s power she only has to proclaim, “You simply don’t matter to me.” Many readers will sympathize with those adolescent memories of being made to feel small and ugly, and it takes a great deal of maturity of wisdom to realize that everyone was simply doing their best to survive. It’s truly rewarding for readers to see the happiness Mel has found in her bakery and in her relationship with her fiancé Joe. The love Mel feels when creating her delicious cupcakes comes through the pages, and recipes will lure readers into giving them a try themselves. The friendly banter and affection shared between Mel, Joe, Angie, and Tate continues to be a highlight of the series, especially when it is shared with their family and coworkers. Readers can never have enough of these good friends, delicious baking, and great adventures.
The Diva Sweetens the Pie: A Domestic Diva Mystery by Krista Davis
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s all about the pastries as Old Town, Virginia, hosts their annual Old Town Pie Festival of PiePalooza baking classes and cooking competitions. While Domestic Diva advice columnist Sophie Winston is more interested in learning the nuances of pie-making than in competing, her frenemy and rival columnist Natasha’s banishment (ghost peppers were involved) means that the imperious true diva is determined to force her way into stardom. Television cooking host and cookbook author Patsy Lee Presley is in town to be one of the celebrity judges, but before even tasting one of the entries she collapses face-first into a pie. The show must go on, and until the police declare a cause of death, amateur and professional cooks continue to present their masterpieces. Sophie Winston does her best to stay focused on helping her best friend Nina judge a variety of pies, but her history of investigating leads young Aly Stokes to her doorstep. Aly’s mother Nellie was convicted of killing the son of one of the town’s most renown restaurant owners, and coincidentally enough many of those closest to both the victim and the convicted murdered are back in Old Town for the festival.
Sophie is unable to resist the lure of a mystery, not to mention the pleas from a young girl, so despite the warnings from her attorney boyfriend she begins to look into the closed case. When someone close to her is viciously attacked and nearly burnt up by an arsonist, Sophie and her friends are determined to investigate chef rivalries, romantic entanglement, and plagiarized recipes. By eliminating alibies and following a trail of tasty clues, Sophie makes a startling conclusion and is forced to confront a Machiavellian villain.
Advice from both Sophie’s and Natasha’s columns begin every chapter, and while definitely contrasting in style (Natasha’s always favor appearance over practicality) they are both genuinely helpful. A reader’s tolerance may vary on Natasha’s overbearing personality and condescending attitude, as just when she displays a smidgeon of kindness her self-interest and selfish attitude prevail. While Sophie tends to give Natasha the benefit of the doubt and accepts her insults as being delusional but well-intended, readers will derive far more pleasure seeing the snobby life-style coach fail spectacularly. Sophie’s interactions with her ex-husband Mars and ex-boyfriend Detective Wolf Fleishman are awkwardly entertaining, but her adherence to justice and moral principles have her facing difficult decisions in her newest relationship. Humor, entertaining advice, and of course, delicious pie recipes are the perfect filling for this complicated and rewarding novel. If the US Pet Expo is truly on its way to Old Town, then Sophie and readers have even more to look forward to in the future.
Enjoy these perfect sweet, savory, and spiked recipes: Piled High Strawberry Pie, Quick and Easy Blueberry Cobbler, S’mores Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Ice Cream Pie, Tijuana Odum’s Easy Chicken Pot Pie, Grilled Cheese BLT, Strawberry Bourbon Lemonade, and S’mores Cocktail.
Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches: A Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery by Karen Rose Smith
Review by Sandra Murphy
At Daisy’s Tea Room, business is booming. Tour buses stop by on regular intervals, new items are on the menu, and a former cooking channel chef turned reviewer is scheduled to stop by for high tea. The review could be a mixed opportunity. Derek’s reviews have taken a decidedly sour turn as he skewers eating establishments, putting some out of business. Daisy has reason to worry.
On the day of Derek’s visit, things seem to go well, to the point that he even complimented the cucumber and pimento spread sandwiches and asked for more to take home. Now all they can do is wait for the review to post.
In the meantime, Foster, Daisy’s normally calm employee, is in a foul mood. Since he’s both an employee and Daisy’s daughter Vi’s boyfriend, she has a vested interest in finding out what’s going on. She hasn’t heard from Vi in a week, too. Are they breaking up?
Daisy’s relationship with Jonas has taken, for them, a giant step forward when he asks her to go out of town with him to meet his friends. Unfortunately, she has to cancel when Vi makes an unexpected trip home and has to talk to Daisy without delay.
Jazzi, Daisy’s younger daughter, is adopted. She recently found Portia, her birth mother, with Jonas’ help. Now Portia has told her husband about Jazzi. He didn’t take the news well and Jazzi blames herself.
When Derek is killed, Daisy of course wonders what happened but also will the review still run, and what did it say? When the detective lets people think the death was related to something Derek ate at the tea shop, business plummets. Will the murder be solved before Daisy’s Tea Room becomes a victim too?
This is the third book in the series. Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes and Murder with Cinnamon Scones were reviewed here. Daisy and Jonas are a delightful couple. The younger character’s relationships are featured as Jazzi and her birth mom adapt to each other, and Vi and Foster deal with a long-distance romance.
Smith also writes the Caprice DeLuca mysteries (8). I like both series, although of the two, this is my favorite. In Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches, the emphasis is more on the characters than the mystery. That’s not a bad thing, as the character’s lives take new twists and turns but the solution seems rushed.
Original recipes include Pimento Spread, Easy Cauliflower Carrot Cheese Soup, and Rum Raisin Rice Pudding.
Look for Murder with Cherry Tarts, available for pre-order, coming in November.
Sconed to Death: A Cat Latimer Mystery by Lynn Cahoon
Review by Sandra Murphy
At the Aspen Hills Warm Springs Resort, Cat Latimer has her hands full with a new batch of writers on retreat. Usually the writers are a quiet group: huddled into corners, writing pages of prose, asking a lot of basic questions. This group is a rowdier bunch, intent on being published and open to ideas for their characters.
One woman, Bren, seems attached to her cell phone. She’s got a boyfriend who keeps her on a short leash. Away from him, she’s realizing just how short that leash is—and how it’s choking the life she wants right out of her.
Shauna is in charge of the kitchen. She makes the delicious meals the writers enjoy, the snacks that are on hand at all times, and for this session, she’s giving cooking lessons in case someone wants to write a culinary mystery.
Dee Dee runs the bakery in town. Her baked goods are nowhere near as good as Shauna’s and that just burns her buns. Dee Dee retaliates by reporting Shauna to the Health Department. She also accuses Shauna of stealing her recipes.
When a death occurs at the bakery, Dee Dee is a prime suspect. A famous chef is the victim and no one knows why he was in town, much less at the mediocre bakery. Cat’s uncle is the police chief. Although he warns her to take care of her business, not his, she’s determined to find out what happened. With the help of Shauna, Seth (her handyman and boyfriend), and the writers, she just might be able to pull that off.
This is the fifth book in the series. The retreat would be a wonderful getaway, dead body or not. Shauna’s food would see to that. There’s a nice bit of romance between Seth and Cat, but it’s subtle so the guests don’t feel uncomfortable. Uncle Pete has his own romance going on and I expect there will be changes coming soon for him.
Cahoon also writes the Farm-to-Fork books (3), the Tourist Trap mysteries (9) and has written five novellas. Included in this book is the recipe for Cranberry Scones, thanks to Shauna.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “father’s day,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 15, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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