by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have another fun group of food related mysteries-A Crime of Passion Fruit: A Bakeshop Mystery by Ellie Alexander, Death of a Lobster Lover: A Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery by Lee Hollis, French Fried: An Ethnic Eats Mystery by Kylie Logan, & The Tell-Tale Tarte: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
A Crime of Passion Fruit: A Bakeshop Mystery by Ellie Alexander
Review by Cynthia Chow
The luxury cruise ship Amour of the Seas was indeed where pastry chef Jules Capshaw met the love of her life, but it also was the place of her greatest heartbreak. The latter led her back to Ashland, Oregon, where she has surprisingly found herself feeling at home within her family’s Torte bakeshop. It’s just as they’re in the middle of expanding when Jules receives a call from her estranged husband Carlos, begging for her help. The pastry chef on Amour of the Seas has abruptly quit, and as the executive chef Carlos needs Jules to fly in until he can get a replacement. Carlos uses the lure of double pay, not to mention an all-paid vacation for Jules’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend the Professor, to entice Jules back to Amour of the Seas for five days sailing through the Caribbean.
It’s not long before Jules is back in the rhythm of long days coordinating the preparation of thousands of pastries for the 600 guests, all of whom expect to be indulged and surprised by her delicacies. What rocks her off of her feet is the sight of a possible stowaway, a young woman who later turns up dead floating in the ship’s pool. Having considerable experience with murder back in Ashland, Jules doesn’t hesitate to join the Professor (AKA Detective Doug Ashland) in investigating the mystery behind the poor woman’s death. While guests delight in gourmet meals, live entertainment, and a luxury spa, the staff clocks in 80 hours of work a week, live in tiny cabins, and stay isolated from the guests on the upper decks. These are fascinating worlds, and Jules crosses between them when she takes off her chef whites to question an amorous musician, predatory dancer, and ambitious cruise director. Someone on board knows the identity of the desperate stowaway, and learning who will get Jules one step closer to discovering the murderer.
This sixth in the Bakeshop Mystery series takes readers out to sea and away from Shakespeare-themed Ashland, where Torte is in a holding pattern as it undergoes considerable renovations. Readers who have grown to love the charming town’s residents shouldn’t worry though, as Jules continues to check in with the bakery and her friends. Her friend Lance is using the excuse of supervising Torte to avoid strife occurring within the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he’s not the only one attempting to dodge confrontations. Jules fled from Carlos when she discovered the secret he was keeping from his past, and now that she has changed Jules doesn’t know whether she can ask Carlos to do the same. What Jules is certain of is her love of being a pastry chef, uniting people over food, and being able to do both at her beloved Torte. The ocean may get rocky for Amour of the Seas, but Ashland’s premier bakery will be Jules’s oasis of good friends and family, with an added dash of Shakespearean culture.
Death of a Lobster Lover: A Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery by Lee Hollis (pen name of writing team Rick Copp and Holly Simason)
Review by Cynthia Chow
Hayley Powell’s girls’ weekend with her best friends Liddy and Mona Barnes is not off to a good start. Hayley would have preferred leaving Bar Harbor for a shopping outlet, and Liddy was leaning towards Martha’s Vineyard, but Mona entices them to the tiny fishing village of Salmon Cove with the offer of her free family cabin. To say that it’s rustic would be overselling it, and the lack of plumbing and power has high maintenance Liddy demanding their immediate departure.
Liddy quickly changes her mind when they meet handsome Jackson Young, a visiting writer from Boston who has her enthusiastically admitting that she and her EX-boyfriend are not just “taking a break.” A break is something Mona is not willing to accept in regards to her own marriage to a cheating loser, despite just reuniting with her friend and fellow lobsterman Corey Guildford. Only a stubborn Mona could resist Corey’s charm and obvious adoration, which only frustrates Liddy when her own date so embarrassingly stands her up. Jackson has a very good reason for skipping the Salmon Cove Lobster Bake though, as he has been left strangled to death on the beach. Local Sheriff Daphne Wilkes’s arbitrary and very expensive tickets are nothing compared to her wrath in targeting Liddy as the probable murderer, leaving Hayley and an emotionally wrought Mona to put together the puzzle that was Jackson Young, a man who lied about his identity and reason for being in town.
Having known one another since they were children, Hayley, Liddy, and Mona bicker like the closest of sisters. Their long friendship also explains how they know one another’s weaknesses and secrets, and as much as they may be irritated by them, will always have each other’s back. Their contrasts provide so many moments of hilarity, as do Hayley’s attempts to keep Mona from occasionally strangling Liddy herself. Mona’s moral dilemma concerning the feelings she has for Corey—not to mention the obvious affection he has for her—delivers an underlying sentiment of sadness, and this grounds what is often an absurdly funny mystery. Hayley’s “Island Food & Spirits” columns continue to be interludes that serve as an amuse-bouche for the mysteries to come, and they are as intriguing and compelling as the main plot. These accounts of Hayley’s rather traumatic and disastrous family vacations are absolutely delightful, and while undeniably entertaining they also expand on Hayley’s character and explain the person she has become. Having expanded her tastes as an eater and as a cook, the recipes of drinks and lobster delicacies Hayley includes will have mouths watering. It seems that wherever Hayley and her friends travel to they bring their share of laughs, chaos, and not to mention a little murder, but readers can look forward to writings of Rick Copp and Holly Simason, writing as Lee Hollis, taking their next act back to Bar Harbor for “Death of a Cookbook Author.” It sounds right up Hayley’s alley, and just can’t come soon enough!
French Fried: An Ethnic Eats Mystery by Kylie Logan
Review by Cynthia Chow
When personal chef to Hollywood stars Laurel Inwood came to Hubbard, Ohio, she intended to stay just long enough for her Aunt Sophie to recover from knee surgery and be up to running her Terminal at the Tracks diner. Sophie further twisting her knee during a Mediterranean cruise dance extended Laurel’s visit to six months, which explains why she’s still in town trying to update their tastes with more cosmopolitan ethnic cuisine. Their latest venture is a tie-in with Hubbard’s Statue of Liberty Festival, which has Laurel planning a menu of French country bistro delights. It would seem to be the perfect event for Sophie’s best friend Raquel “Rocky” Arnaud, who was born in France and retains that ubiquitous sophisticated Parisian flair. So it’s completely out of character for Rocky to appear disheveled at a book signing for bestselling historical fiction author Aurore Brisson, and disorientated at the festival’s parade. It’s alarming enough to have Laurel checking up on her at Rocky’s Pacifique farm, where poor Rocky has indeed drank her last glass of red wine.
Laurel is only partially happy to have not been alone in discovering Rocky, as Declan Fury’s presence is as disconcerting as it comforting. Bronntanas Irish gift store’s owner has not been shy about his amorous intentions towards Laurel, and while she does find the attorney undeniably attractive, a relationship is impossible considering her goal to leave town as soon as possible. A tasting interview with Senator Katherine Stone in New York may get Laurel one step closer, and she is determined to keep herself as unemotionally unattached as possible before she can escape. That doesn’t mean that Rocky doesn’t deserve proper justice though, and with police declaring her death a suicide that means that Laurel will have to investigate on her own. Declan is not about to let her do that, so the charming rogue attaches himself to her side as she delves into Rocky’s past with peace movements of the 60s, her fascination with a Statue of Liberty expert, the crazy neighbor stalking her, and the writer she accused of plagiarism.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this second in the Ethnic Eats Mystery series is just how much Laurel’s upbringing in the foster care system continues to affect her today. Having been bounced between houses throughout her youth, and only briefly finding a cooking mentor with Sophie’s sister Nina, Laurel never formed attachments or expected anyone else to look out for her best interests. The guard she was forced to build against repeatedly being abandoned is why she is so terrified of Declan’s enormously caring and welcoming family. Declan’s attentions are assertive and far from subtle, but anything less would fail to penetrate her considerable emotional barricades. The joy in this very well-constructed mystery comes from seeing whether Laurel can overcome her fear of being loved, and finally find a family and a home. The amazing descriptions of French quiches, tartines, and pastries are a delightful bonus.
The Tell-Tale Tarte: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Val Deniston manages the café at the local gym. She’s heard rumors that the manager wants to close the café and put in a clothing store instead. Val thinks it’s a bad idea of course but has little to say about it. She finds an unlikely ally in Irene, the woman who wanted to manage the shop when Val was hired. Irene’s son Jeremy needs a job, Val needs a part-timer, Irene wants to do something creative with food, and Val needs to update the menu. If she can really trust Irene, this could all work for the best.
Val moved to town to keep an eye on her Grandad. Val’s mom thought he should sell the house and move to an assisted living facility. With Val there to help, he’s staying in the old house. Grandad has changed from the grump he was to an updated version of himself. He submitted recipes to the newspaper, claiming any dish worth eating wouldn’t take over five ingredients. He’s now a food writer—which means he tells Val what he wants to say and she’s in charge of writing it. His next idea is a cookbook which means using Val’s recipes and substituting or subtracting ingredients. She’s ghostwriting the book. It seems his ideas always end up being more work for her.
He also had a makeover and changed his style of clothes and trimmed his beard. At the mall, Val sees him from across the parking lot when he suddenly falls. She bolts between cars to help and discovers it’s not Grandad but a look-alike who is pronounced dead at the scene.
Val is more than shocked when she caters a book club meeting and is introduced to the author—Rick Usher, an expert on Poe. Even though he’s supposed to be a recluse, she recognizes him. No one had seen Usher in years and it was rumored he might have died. She recognizes him because he looks just like the dead guy—and that means just like Grandad as well.
The dead man was murdered and the suspect pool is larger than expected, including Usher’s wife, his writing partner, and surprisingly, and even Gunnar, Val’s boyfriend. Gunnar was the understudy for a role the man had in community theatre.
Val, with the help/hindrance of Grandad, investigates. It’s an uphill battle with the added pressure of the cookbook deadline, fear of her contract at the club being cancelled or her business being high jacked by Irene.
This is the fourth book in the series. Grandad has evolved the most of any of the characters. Val and Gunnar are getting closer but not rushing anything. Side characters add sparkle. Expect to see more of Irene and her son. This is a book to enjoy on a hot summer day by the pool or in the winter by the fire as you follow Val and Grandad to a satisfying solution.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “food July,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 15, 2017. 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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