by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Enjoy this last big group of June Penguin mysteries, which includes fun food ones, an event planner, and crafts. We have Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper, Razing the Dead by Sheila Connolly, Murder Simply Stitched by Isabella Alan, Hot Fudge Frame-Up: A Fudge Shop Mystery by Christine DeSmet, The Diva Wraps It Up: A Domestic a Diva Mystery by Krista Davis. Details on how to win copies of all 5 at the end of this post along with a link to purchase them where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Tempest in a Teapot By Amanda Cooper
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sophie Taylor had a fashionable, popular restaurant in Manhattan but it failed. She’s not entirely sure why since business was good but it has to do with the investors not being fully invested in the project. To get away from it all and figure out what’s next, she retreats to the safe haven of Gracious Grove, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her grandmother runs Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House there and could use a little help.
Cissy Peterson is getting married although not everybody seems thrilled with her choice of groom or from the groom’s side, his choice of bride. Cissy is an old friend of Sophie’s and Sophie can’t understand why Cissy is so blah about the whole thing. Cissy’s grandmother has a tea shop too—right next door. It seems whatever Sophie’s grandmother does, Cissy’s does too—just not as well. It all stems from a long ago feud about a stolen boyfriend, now long dead.
It doesn’t help that Cissy insists that her bridal shower be held at Auntie Rose’s instead of her grandmother’s shop. To pacify all concerned, they decide to have a pre-celebration at La Belle Epoque. Knowing how cheap (there’s no other word for it) Cissy’s grandmother is, everyone offers to bring something to eat, supposedly to save Grandma from all the extra work involved.
In the midst of the party though, Cissy’s future mother-in-law drops dead and it looks like poison. The suspects include all the guests, Cissy’s black sheep brother who dropped by and spiked the punch (Gracious Grove is a dry town), and even Sophie and her Grandmother.
Sophie hasn’t decided to stay in town but longs to update things at the Tea House. Grandmother thinks she’s going to talk Sophie into taking over the business. Until the murder is solved, nothing can be decided.
There’s a recipe for Cranberry Pecan Yogurt Scones and tips on how to brew the perfect cup of tea at the back of the book. The cover says first in a series—plan on spending time in Gracious Grove, getting to know the people, trying out new recipes and tea flavors, and following a possible romance for Sophie and big changes for Cissy. I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Tea House.
Razing the Dead by Sheila Connolly
Review by Sandra Murphy
Nell Pratt president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society in Philadelphia and James Morrison, Special Agent of the FBI are back. This time, Mitchell Wakeman, a wealthy local developer has plans to create a new type of community living on what was a dairy farm for the last hundred plus years. He does realize that history abounds in the area and to avoid any problems with Civil War graves or historical battle sites popping up in the middle of the development, he hires Nell and her team to research the history of the farm.
Lissa is hired as an independent contractor for the research. Ben is a new hire for the Society. I see sparks between the two of them, as does Nell. James, who knows Ben, refuses to get involved in any possible romance between the two.
Marty, usually a force of nature, is remarkably absent. She’s harboring a secret romance of her own and is uncharacteristically mum about it. Who is Ethan and why isn’t she introducing him to the rest of the group?
Nell and Lissa head to the dairy farm to literally get the lay of the land. Following Wakeman, they get to see a lot more greenery than planned—and find a dead body although not of Civil War vintage. It’s that of a local history buff, also the zoning officer for the township. Now the problem becomes, was he killed because he’d discovered a significant artifact, because of his zoning job or a personal reason? Nell is most surprised to see James assigned to the case. Apparently, Wakeman used his influence to involve the FBI from the start instead of letting the local police ask for their help. Good thinking on his part but poor manners as it causes friction between James and the locals, not to mention, it’s James’ first case since he was injured on the job.
This is the fifth book in the series and the characters are growing with each page. This time we’re able to find out more about Nell’s family history, not mentioned before. We see a side of James that is playful, romantic and just a little unsure, although hopeful, where Nell is concerned. Although Nell wants to take their relationship further, she hesitates until I want to give her a sharp shove between the shoulder blades as a little encouragement. Luckily, before that has to happen, she works out what has been holding her back and there’s a very satisfactory ending or perhaps I should say beginning, by the last page.
Ethan seems to be a calming influence on Marty, so I hope we see a lot more of the both of them. Ben and Lissa would make a nice pairing too. I’d like to see more involvement by Eric, Nell’s assistant. I think he has great potential. I’m looking forward to following Nell and James, in their work and in their romance.
Previous books are Fundraising the Dead, Let’s Play Dead, Fire Engine Dead, Monument to the Dead (reviewed for KRL). Connolly also writes the Orchard Mysteries and the County Cork Mysteries (also reviewed for KRL).
Murder Simply Stitched by Isabella Alan
Review by Sandra Murphy
As you might remember from Murder, Plain and Simple, the first book in the Amish quilt shop mystery series, reviewed for KRL, Angie Braddock inherited her Amish-by-marriage aunt’s quilt shop in Rolling Brook. Now she and her French Bulldog, Oliver, run the shop and learn the ways of the Amish.
The book starts with a humorous scene as Angie tries to capture an escaped Nubian goat named Petunia. Usually the Amish don’t treat animals as pets but Petunia is a force unto herself and shall we say, is less than pleased with Angie’s idea of a rescue.
Oliver, so very cute and a great companion, does have his quirks as well. He’s afraid of birds and now it appears, goats, or at least runaway goats. During the ruckus of Angie tackling Petunia, Oliver disappears. He’s found in the bunny pen, enjoying the company of baby bunnies who act as his body guards.
The scene is the weekly auction, held in a barn. It includes livestock, farm equipment and this week, some of the quilts Angie’s aunt made. Business dies off as fall and winter approach so the sale of the quilts will add needed money to the shop’s cash flow.
There’s a business related problem brewing after Angie’s friends bought a large building in town in order to start a full-fledged bakery. After the sale, the town council in the form of Wanda, a stickler for rules and regulations as well as getting her own way, says they won’t allow such a large business on the main street—too disruptive.
Rachel Miller is a fine baker and Angie’s best friend. When Wanda is found dead (by Angie and Oliver of course), with one of Rachel’s blueberry fry pies in her hand, Rachel jumps to the top of the suspect list. Angie can’t have that—she needs all the friends she can get. She and Amish quilter friends investigate to make sure Rachel and her husband are safe, the bakery opens and the real culprit is found.
Angie is finding her place in Rolling Brook, getting involved with the community and fitting in more. Oliver is, as always, a treat and steals the scene every time. Petunia and Dodger, his friends do too so I can only hope we see a lot more of the three of them. Rachel is a good friend and through her, the reader finds out about the ways of the Amish as Angie learns, much better than the dreaded information dump, a long list of things we need to know all in one pile. The series is shaping up well and Rolling Brook is becoming real in my mind as are the characters. I can’t wait to visit again.
At the back of the book, alas, no recipe for the fry pies but there are instructions for how to make an Amish quilted pincushion jar and an excerpt of the next book, Murder Served Simply, available from Obsidian in December.
Hot Fudge Frame-Up: A Fudge Shop Mystery By Christine DeSmet
Review by Cynthia Chow
In the tiny town of Door County, Wisconsin, the mostly Belgian population of two hundred depends on the summer tourist season to bring in business. Ava Oosterling, purveyor of homemade fudge sold out of her family’s Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers, & Belgian Fudge & Beer store, has been enlisted to head the town’s First Annual Fudge Festival in the hopes of promoting tourism and starting a series of harvest festivals designed to attract visitors throughout the year. While her very opinionated Grandma Sophie doesn’t trust Lloyd Mueller’s motives for pushing the concept, or for asking Ava to move out of her rental cabin early, the richest man in Door County has always been genial even if some suspect that he has plan to demolish buildings to enlarge the harbor and build a helipad.
Ava is distracted by the antics of the attention-starved celebrity chef contestants whose battles wreak havoc in Ava’s kitchen. That the contest is being filmed for possible television series only amps up their antics and has Ava worried that her friend Pauline is going to get her heart broken by the tourism promoter encouraging the drama. Sunken treasure, a possible suicide, a car accident and a series of threats concerning the fudge contest all have Ava imperiled either as the target of a frame-up or death.
When Ava Oosterline ran off to marry the alluring and exciting Dillon Rivers, she left a fiancé at the altar, heartbroken relatives, and the only home she knew. After receiving the news that she was not the only woman married to Dillon, Ava obtained an annulment, quit her television screenwriting job, and returned home. There are two sides to every story though. With Dillon now a respectable engineer and back in both Door County and Ava’s life, she learns that he has lost none of his charm or attraction. With Ava’s unforgiving family shunning Dillon and rooting for Ava’s reliable ex-fiancé (he’s a social worker who calms families with fudge during counseling sessions, for Heaven’s sake), she will have to juggle emotional chefs, matchmaker friends, and two suitors. Tasty- recipes are included in the sweet-themed mystery. The fun only escalates with the highjinks of the Oosterlings and their friends as they meddle in one another’s lives as only loved ones can.
The Diva Wraps It Up: A Domestic a Diva Mystery By Krista Davis
Review by Cynthia Chow
It may be Christmastime in Old Town Alexandria but there certainly seems to be a lack of goodwill to men. During a holiday business party organized by event planner Sophie Winston, real estate company owner Horace Scoggins takes a header over a balcony and falls on his own antique Scottish dirk. Before being swept away by the ambulance, Horace begs Sophie to find a letter—but keep it from his repellent wife, Edith who couldn’t possibly be the love-sick brown-eyed girl who wrote it.
The tone of this hilarious mystery is set with the mock Christmas newsletter sent by Gwen Babineaux as it highlights everything that is loathsome about boastful holiday cards. The newsletter doesn’t lie so much as stretch the truth to its limits, inadvertently triggers a series of events as neighbors attempt to decipher its hints and scandalous disclosures. When an unexpected and unknown relative of the Babineauxs arrives in town, it’s inevitable that the holiday will end in murder. Sophie just didn’t expect that it would occur after she baked thirteen dozen cookies for a cookie exchange party.
Sophie has become accustomed to the eccentricities of her town. Her ex-husband Mars moved in across the street along with his paramour—and Sophie’s nemesis—the oblivious and pretentious Natasha Reid Norwood. Sophie may wonder if she still has some remnants of affection for her ex-husband but she attempts to move on with attorney Alex German—now that her relationship with Homicide Investigator Wolf Fleishman has circled the drain.
Who can’t appreciate a novel that includes a Christmas home decorating contest awarding a “Christmas Vacation” Clark Griswold award for the most over-the-top decorations? The escapades of Sophie, her best friend Nina, and the local residents occasionally prove to be similarly outrageous but are always entertaining. What should not be overlooked, though, is how Davis develops her characters past their first impressions and grants them complex, and occasionally tragic, histories to explain their present behavior. Raucous humor, affectionate characters, and delectable recipes highlight this unpredictable mystery that entertains during any season.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “June Food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 28, 2014. 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 & a portion goes to help support KRL!