by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
We have a bunch of mysteries from Penguin & Kensington authors this week for your July reading fun, with crafts, food, animals & more-Gone with the Wool: Yarn Retreat Mystery by Betty Hechtman, Dressed to Kilt: Scottish Highlands series by Hannah Reed, Final Fondue: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan, Take the Monkey and Run: A Call of the Wilde Mystery by Laura Morrigan, and Toasting Up Trouble: A Dinner Club Mystery by Linda Wiken. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copies of all 5 books, and a link to purchase them.
Gone with the Wool: Yarn Retreat Mystery by Betty Hechtman
Review by Sandra Murphy
Casey Feldstein is still booking knitting retreats and baking scrumptious muffins for local eateries, much to the dismay of her mother, her ex-boyfriend’s parents, and a few others. This time she’s gearing up for the annual Butterfly Festival when the Monarch butterflies pass through town during their migration. The town makes a big deal of it, complete with a Butterfly Queen pageant and events going non-stop.
Casey’s retreat takes up a lot of time, in spite of the help she has from two local friends and three former students who pitch in. She bakes late at night, after her friend’s restaurant closes, delivers the goods, and crashes before starting again. On top of that, Sammy, the former boyfriend, is staying at her place—not exactly with her but there. His parents have dropped in to talk him into returning to his home town with Casey as his bride. He hasn’t managed to tell them that they’ve broken up and are just friends. Sammy talks Casey into pretending, “Just for a few days.”
The woman in charge of the Butterfly Queen pageant is Rosalie. She puts a whole new spin on the term social climber. She was Butterfly Queen herself and tried to make it a lifetime title. That plan didn’t work out and neither did her life because she’s found stabbed in the back during the Butterfly presentation. Since the lights were out at the time, the MC had a cordless mike, and everyone there knew the whole thing since it was the same every year, it widened the suspect pool by a mile.
Sammy’s parents are appalled and insist Sammy and Casey set the date and return with them. Unbeknownst to them, Sammy has a pretty good gig going as a magician and he loves it. Casey has fought with her own mom over her baking and knitting retreats idea (Mom thinks she should go to cooking school in Paris) and isn’t going to cave for Sammy’s mom!
The mystery is a good one with so many suspects to choose from. The more Casey finds out about Rosalie’s life, the biggest question is, why wasn’t she killed sooner?
This is the fourth in the Yarn Retreat Mystery series. Good side characters, nice setting, a subplot that’s coming to an end, and a nice mystery too. The Vista Del Mar might be a little too rustic for most people with no Wi-fi, cell phone service, phones in rooms or televisions, but Cadbury by the Sea would be a great place to visit, especially during the Monarch migration.
Casey has generously included a pattern for a cowl made on a round loom, a pattern for a Monarch butterfly, and her recipe for Monarch muffins.
Dressed to Kilt: Scottish Highlands series by Hannah Reed
Review by Sandra Murphy
Eden Elliott is in Scotland on a six month Visa to soak up the atmosphere and write a romance novel. A hunky neighbor, Leith Cameron, is an inspiration. Her time’s almost up, but she’s not ready to leave. She made friends, is sweet on Leith and his daughter, and is a special constable. That means she gets to work with the Inspector to solve crimes—most are small, but it’s interesting work. It also keeps Sean Stevens, former special constable and now constable-in-training, away from the Inspector. Sean is that annoying—at least to everyone but Vicki, Eden’s best friend.
It’s a surprise to get an invitation to a whiskey tasting at a local distillery and since the invitation is from Leith, even nicer. She writes a formal note of acceptance but is shocked that Leith, although invited too, wasn’t the source of her invitation. Eden visits Bridie Dougal, the hostess, to straighten it all out and is able to meet not only Bridie but her housekeeper, Henrietta McCloud as well. The talk turns to Eden’s family, an unwelcome subject, but the invitation to the tasting is still on.
Bridie has made it known she intends to announce plans for the future of the distillery at the tasting but goes to her room to rest before doing it. On a tour of the facility, Eden is shocked to see a body in a vat of whiskey—but it’s not Bridie. Henrietta, who wasn’t at the tasting, is dead.
While most people can think of reasons for Bridie to be killed—inheritance and all that—no one can come up with a good reason to do away with the housekeeper. There are a number of people to be investigated though—Janet, an American who forced her way into the tasting, citing a distant relationship and expecting a grand welcome, Henrietta’s estranged sister and members of Bridie’s family for reasons unknown.
The mystery is a complicated one that Eden hopes to solve before she’s forced to leave the country. Instead of getting the usual support from her stateside friend, Ami, and her neighboring friend, Vicki, Eden feels that something is going on but has no idea what. The inspector is acting weird too. Eden seems to be the only one upset by the deadline for her return to the States.
Bridie still insists on getting to know Eden better by talking about family. Since Eden’s dad walked out on them years ago, what’s to talk about now?
Nice suspense, Bridie a fun addition to the cast of characters, a lot of history of Scotland, Eden’s family and whiskey making, all add enrichment to the book. This is the third book in a thoroughly enjoyable Scottish Highlands series.
Final Fondue: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan
Review by Cynthia Chow
After an egotistical chef caused her to unceremoniously be demoted and ousted from her career as a cookbook publicist in New York City, Val Deniston retreated to her grandfather’s home in Bayport, Maryland. Assigned by her mother the task of convincing Granddad to move to Florida, Val instead found a home on the Eastern Shore cooking health food at a Bayport Racquet and Fitness club’s Cool Down Café. Val has also been enabling Granddad with a newspaper column, providing the recipes while he pretends to be the knowledgeable Codger Cook.
They will both have their hands full with the Bayport Tricentennial Festival. Not only will the Codger Cook be competing in a dessert cook-off, they are also renting out his unused rooms to Festival guests. Jennifer Brown has booked rooms for her wedding party while they attend the Festival and scout out locations for pre-ceremony celebrations. Val may have had the unfortunate luck to recently been involved in several murder investigations, but even she couldn’t have predicted that a disliked bridesmaid would immediately be murdered. Things go downhill from there, although anyone who has ever seen a horror movie should have known that having a zombie-filled cornfield maze would never end well.
Vengeful Chef Henri La Farge is also in town to judge the cooking contests, and he continues to blame Val for the car accident he caused. Val’s mother then descends for an inconvenient visit, inviting along Val’s cheating former fiancé Tony Nicolias. This is all timed to Val considering the job offer to return to New York City. Even though she has recently begun dating Gunnar Swensen, she can’t help but feel the need to resolve the ties to her old life. As her Granddad perfects his chocolate fondue recipe, Val and her cousin Monique investigate whether crab-hats led to the wrong victim, if the Best Man was being less than honorable, and how the attacks seem to be tied into their Hitchcock-themed décor.
Fans of this third in A Five-Ingredient Mystery series will be introduced to Granddad’s softer side, who discloses the reasons behind his animosity towards Monique’s family. Granddad sidelines his five-ingredient columns as he prepares for the cook-off, but that still allows Val numerous opportunities to display her cooking prowess for her family and for the Café’s food booth at the festival. Established characters are further developed to display more sympathetic sides, while the plot proves so complex that readers will be guessing up until the end. Maya Corrigan’s novels have continued to grow stronger with each entry, whetting readers’ appetites for the next installment of this thoroughly entertaining mystery series.
Take the Monkey and Run: A Call of the Wilde Mystery by Laura Morrigan
Review by Cynthia Chow
It seems fitting that New Orleans is the place where animal behaviorist Grace Wilde arrives to meet her first actual client. Only in the Big Easy would Grace’s ability to telepathically communicate with animals seem rather blasé. It’s also the home of Anya Zharova’s sister Veronica, who disappeared after leaving only a note declaring that she would be where she first found her cat Coco. Anya believes Grace can use her ability to get Coco to reveal Veronica’s location. Grace didn’t expect the presence of Dr. Barry Schellenger, a rather sinister psychiatrist who declares that Veronica’s schizophrenia makes her a danger to herself. This only places additional pressure on Grace, who already was feeling out of her element and missing her human and four-legged family.
If this scenario sounds a little sketchy, it’s because it is. This becomes apparent when Grace visits Veronica’s apartment and in addition to receiving vague images from Coco, Grace is sent a startling mental image from a nearby runaway capuchin monkey. Grace knew that Logan, AKA the Ghost, often operated on the shady side of the law, but she can’t explain why the appropriately named Cornelius would have a vision of Logan grabbing Veronica.
No longer sure whom she can trust, Grace finds herself at the doorstep of a Bed-and-Breakfast owned by Belinda, a psychic drag queen with two adorable Pomeranians, Elvis and Priscilla. As talented with disguises as with tarot cards, Belinda helps Grace fly under the wire and unite with her own sister Emma, veterinarian Dr. Hugh Murray, and Grace’s boyfriend Kai Duncan. Even more important to Grace is once again being with her beautiful timber wolf-dog Moss, and uber adorable kitten Voodoo. Through motorcycle chases, night visits to the Bon Temps Mardi Gras Museum, and a raid on a male revue show, they discover that unraveling the mystery of Veronica may lead to a far more nefarious plot with horrifying implications.
As someone more comfortable with animals than with humans, the Mardi Gras winter season tests all of Grace’s admittedly limited people skills. Although Grace isn’t sure how to define her relationship with Kai, his crime scene investigator experience helps to keep their initial efforts as grounded as any police procedural. What is unique is how Grace’s ability to sense and mentally communicate with animals has more of a scientific element than a paranormal one. The result being that this entire series feels practical and realistic. While Grace’s anxiety can transfer into the animals near her, so can a kitten’s innocent dreams calm Grace.
In this fourth of the Call of the Wilde Mystery series, it is Belinda who quickly becomes a standout character for her maternal caretaking warmth, sharp humor, and complete sense of being at home in New Orleans. Grace herself continues to be engaging and relatable despite her extraordinary abilities. She is vulnerable and awkward with people, but completely relaxed with the voices of animals in her head. The characters continue to be fun and entertaining without being outrageous, and the breathtaking ending is worthy of any thriller. This continues to be one of the most enthralling and satisfying mystery series being written today.
Toasting Up Trouble: A Dinner Club Mystery by Linda Wiken
Review by Cynthia Chow
Jennifer “J.J.” Tanner loves nothing more than brain-storming and coming up with creative ideas for parties for the Make It Happen event-planning business in Burlington, Vermont. The actual end product isn’t as important to J.J. She prefers to leave that to the owner and her best friend from college, Skye Drake. J.J.’s visionary process flows into her recent involvement with Culinary Capers, a dinner club that has members rotating the selection of a cookbook and entrée, leaving the rest to provide side dishes. J.J.’s second turn has her selecting Nigella Lawson’s Italian-themed ‘nigellisima,’ so it makes sense she might seek some advice from the chef catering her latest event. However, Chef Antonio Marcotti of Bella Luna restaurant is arrogant, unhelpful, and unethical, culminating with J.J. having a heated argument with him at the end of an Italian Designer-themed twenty-first birthday party.
As it always seems to happen in these situations, Chef Marcotti is soon murdered, placing J.J. at the top of the suspect list. What is less predictable is that she is also approached by private investigator Ty Devine, who wonders more if J.J. was a mistress than a murderer. Both offended and intrigued by the irritatingly handsome PI, J.J. immediately begins planning an investigation just as she would an event. Enlisting her fellow Culinary Capers, even the extremely reluctant police officer Allison Manovich, J.J. aggressively questions rival chefs, Marcotti’s wife, a local politician, and even a personal trainer. Further tasking her investigative skills is a case of corporate sabotage within Make It Happen, as somehow a rival event planner seems to be proposing the same event concepts to clients.
The author of several other mystery series written under the name Erika Chase, Linda Wiken debuts this Dinner Club Mystery series with a heroine spurred as much by her ego as by the need for justice. Although J.J. initially inserts herself into the investigation to protect her friends, soon she becomes motivated by the need to beat Devine. J.J. might be rather complacently dating fellow Culinary Caper member Connor Mac, but it is Devine who infuriates and fires up all of her emotions.
Many readers will empathize with J.J.’s obsession with cookbooks, adoring them more for the pictures and stories than for any actual intention of preparing the recipes. Fortunately for her, J.J.’s list-making and organizational planning skills should help to balance out the impulsiveness that could one day get her killed. As J.J. faces a momentous decision in her life, this winning combination of culinary creativity and suspenseful intrigue promises to be as entertaining and rewarding for readers as it should be for J.J.’s future.
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 “bunch,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 30, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Or this one to take you to Amazon where you can purchase any of these books. If you have ad blocker on you may not see this link: