by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Enjoy three more fun summer mystery releases from Penguin and Kensington-Death of a Cupcake Queen: A Hayley Powell Foods and Cocktail Mystery By Lee Hollis, Privy to the Dead by Sheila Connolly, and Purl Up and Die by Maggie Sefton. Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of all 3 books & a link to purchase them.
Death of a Cupcake Queen: A Hayley Powell Foods and Cocktail Mystery By Lee Hollis
Review by Cynthia Chow
Never let it be said that Bar Harbor Island Food & Spirits columnist Hayley Powell lacks optimism. How else could one explain her willingness to not only attend, but to help plan, her twentieth high school reunion with the three Mean Girls who tormented her for years? Recent events—and not a few homicides—have had Hayley forging an inexplicable friendship with her former torturer Sabrina Merrywether, the ex-county coroner. Sabrina may have an amnesiac memory of her cruelty towards Hayley, but Hayley and her best friends Liddy Crawford and Mona Barnes have neither forgiven nor forgotten. So it is only through a little emotional blackmail from Hayley’s daughter that three attend their reunion, with the experience being less traumatic than expected.
Of course, the same can’t be said about self-proclaimed Cupcake Queen and cupcakery owner Ivy Foster, found murdered at the reunion amidst her cupcake confections. Once again Hayley begins sticking her nose into police business, even though that business is being capably headed by her brother’s husband, the Brazilian and malapropism-prone police chief, Sergio Alvares. As another Mean Girl falls and an outcast seems to be experiencing an upswing, Hayley will have to put all of her skills to the test before the invitation list for their next reunion fits on a recipe card.
In this sixth of the series authored by a brother-and-sister writing duo, Hayley manages to be the cause of as much chaos as she attempts to prevent. Her daughter’s prom tribulations add to the very relatable humor as Gemma laments over the life-ending trauma of being dateless—as only a dramatic teenager can. Hayley’s food and drink columns continue to highlight tasty treats as well as expand on the absurdity of Hayley’s life. This is a purely fun romp, and readers will delight in seeing Hayley manage to succeed despite her occasional lack of good judgment. The murders of Mean Girls prove to be the perfect garnishes for a mystery that has readers vicariously fulfilling their dreams in a perfectly lethal high school reunion.
Privy to the Dead by Sheila Connolly
Review by Sandra Murphy
Museums, like the rest of us, have a budget to live by. Acquisitions eat up a lot of the money.
After all, patrons want to see what’s new in what’s old and full of history. To research, preserve, and archive those items, a specialized staff is needed, and that’s another large line item on the balance sheet. Though you’d want to believe patrons are also enthusiasts, security is needed so you don’t see documents and artifacts go missing, only to turn up on eBay. By the time the budget gets around to maintenance of the building or making exhibits more user-friendly, the money’s gone the way of the dodo bird—extinct.
However, when a generous donation arrives in the bank account and is clearly earmarked for repairs and improvements, well, it’s time to pull out all the stops and give the museum the facelift it deserves.
Although Nell Pratt, president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, and her team, have worked out plans and backup plans with the contractors, they expect a glitch or two along the way. The workmen have worked around priceless items on other jobs, come highly recommended, can work in one area before moving to the next so the museum can stay open during renovations with minimum disturbance to patrons, and are all bonded and insured.
During Nell’s final walk-through with the contractor, clean up reveals a surprise. When file cabinets in the basement were moved, there was what looked like a wooden cap in the floor. The men removed it, only to find a large, fairly deep hole. One man is sent down to retrieve any items found at the bottom while Nell has Lissa research what it could be.
Nell’s pleased things are progressing so well. The added bonus of the mystery of a hole in the basement is exactly why they all love learning about the past—even if it turns out to be a privy (a/k/a, outhouse).
The first sign of a problem is the arrival of Detective Hrivnak. She’s investigating an accident behind the museum. A man came out between two parked cars without looking and was hit and killed. The driver was not at fault so why is a detective on the case? The man backed into the street and she wants to make sure he wasn’t pushed to his death.
In spite of Nell’s certainty that she doesn’t know the man, it’s found that he worked as part of the construction crew and was the man who went into the mysterious hole in the floor to retrieve the bits and pieces at the bottom. After work, he was seen at a bar with a piece of old brass he’d found; but it wasn’t on his body when he died. Who knew one little piece of brass could affect history and lead to other crimes?
Of course, Nell has a personal life, too. She and James, an FBI agent, bought a huge Victorian house together. It has five bedrooms, a modernized kitchen and way too little furniture. James’ contribution ran to Ikea while Nell’s was hand-me-downs. Nell’s a little afraid of the giant refrigerator and there are way too many buttons and knobs on the stove. Some of the best scenes are Nell and James trying to work out this new living arrangement.
Nell and James are a perfect fit. Both had homes that worked for single people but not for them as a couple. Both have jobs they love. They’ve spent more time working than not, and have no idea what to do with spare time. The fun for readers is to watch the couple negotiate new rules for personal space, overlapping work, and how to feed themselves without resorting to daily carry-out.
During all the research, readers get to know Nell’s team better. Marty is around as always, although this time she’s holding back more than pushing and for good reason. Rich, Eric, Lissa and Ben each bring their own expertise to the search. Henry is a new character, somehow related to Marty—as so many Philadelphians seem to be. To say he works with wood is an understatement: he repairs, researches, and replicates finishes and can even analyze wood to know the kind, its age, and history. I hope we see a lot more of him because although he sounds like he’d be an old guy with years of experience, he’s young, tattooed and has really expensive gadgets.
The past affects the present and personal lives overlap professional to present a mystery layered with a mystery full of personality, humor and learning.
This is Book Six in the museum series. Connolly also writes the Orchard Mysteries (eight books) and the County Cork series (three books). Trust me, you’ll want to read them all.
Purl Up and Die by Maggie Sefton
Review by Sandra Murphy
It seems things are going smoothly at the Lambspun shop. Kelly works on her client accounts there, spacing work with cups of strong coffee and yarn breaks. Mimi and Burt are around, happy together and enjoying their “granddaughter” Cassie. Curt and Jayleen lay claim to her as well.
It seems all the group members are pairing up. Kelly and Steve live in her house with Carl the Squirrel Chasing Dog—and the Brazen One, the squirrel who defies him. Softball season is in full swing. Steve and Kelly each have games of their own plus try to see Cassie’s. Steve’s got a new job and is lining up work. Their days (and nights) are packed.
Barb teaches advanced classes for Mimi. She keeps asking Kelly to join them but Kelly’s all thumbs when it comes to knitting. She misses a stitch or drops it, tangles the yarn, knits too tight or too loose. Still, she’s managed an impressive number of scarves and a few shell tops.
“Helicopter mom” doesn’t begin to describe Barb’s relationship with her son Tommy. He’s in medical school now but she still hovers. He didn’t play sports because Barb worried he’d get hurt. He didn’t hang out with other kids because she worried. It’s a disaster when a young woman accuses Tommy of groping her during an exam at the urgent care clinic where he works at night. It could have a severe effect on his career—or get his scholarship cancelled.
Barb’s on the warpath about the whole thing. Of course, everyone is sure Tommy is innocent. Well, almost sure. Probably. Of course, these things do happen, and now it’s his word against hers—so whom can you believe?
Kelly manages to find out this isn’t the first time the girl has cried foul. Her college professor refused to change a grade for her and the next thing he knew, he was accused of sexual abuse. He was ostracized at the school, began to drink, got divorced and lost tenure because of it. After two years of being drunk more often than not, he maintained a year of sobriety. Kelly finds out that ended a few weeks ago. She’s got to wonder what caused the slip.
When the girl turns up dead, strangled in her own apartment, the police set their sights on Tommy, who had the misfortune to take the night off from work. He has no alibi.
The poor girl—she was never happy, always seeking revenge, even on those who didn’t know they’d done anything wrong. The professor and Tommy aren’t the only suspects.
As in any book where readers get attached to the characters, catching up with them and their lives almost overtakes the mystery. Kelly manages to investigate with the help of Burt and the unspoken blessing of Burt’s former partner at the police department, Dan. It’s good to see the canyon recover from the fire damage where acres burned. Steve’s business is looking up while others scramble to survive. Kelly remains busy with her accounts, always with time for coffee, knitting, and friends. The other couples are progressing just as well. There’s a new technique called wet felting that involves a silk scarf, lots of fiber, soapy water and muscles to squeeze the water out at the end. The results sound worth the trouble. I only wish there were photos.
This book is as good as a visit to the Lambspun shop itself. Readers have a chance to catch up on all the news, see what ‘s new, and relax in the company of friends.
In the back of the book, find a pattern for a knitted shell and a recipe for Mimi’s muffins. This is Book Thirteen (look for reviews of previous books in the KRL archives) so if you haven’t read them before, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 summer mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “summer fun,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 27, 2015. 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: