by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a trio of food mysteries for your summer fun-Sweet Tea and Secrets: A Tea and A Read Mystery by Joy Avon, Southern Sass and Killer Cravings: A Marygene Brown series by Kate Young, and Strangled Eggs and Ham: A Country Store Mystery by Maddie Day. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 3 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.
Sweet Tea and Secrets: A Tea and A Read Mystery by Joy Avon
Review by Cynthia Chow
After a brief stay during the Christmas holidays, Callie Aspen has returned to Heart’s Harbor, Maine, to make it her home. Now that she’s left her job in Trenton as a tour guide to historical sites, Callie is ready to help her Great-Aunt Iphy run the Book Tea tearoom and settle down in her childhood vacation spot. An additional incentive for her move was Deputy Ace Falk, who forged a connection with Callie after they last confronted a killer in the debut novel of the series, Peppermint Peril. Callie wonders if perhaps she assumed too much over their relationship, though, as his responses to her emails were lukewarm, and he now seems exasperatingly distant. At least Callie has Haywood Hall’s Fourth of July celebration as a distraction, since she is responsible for catering the tea party and featuring the sweet tea contest winner on a future menu.
As a favor to her new handyman Quinn Darrow and in exchange for his fostering an adorable for roaming border collie, Callie agrees to research the 1989 disappearance of TV actress Monica Walker. Aunt Iphy had wanted Callie to use her research skills to promote a newsworthy, historical discovery, but she didn’t expect that her early questions would result in a present-day murder. The star of a hit nighttime drama vanished while staying at Heart’s Harbor’s Cliff Hotel, and rumors quickly spread that Monica and her lover had escaped on a boat to start a new life together. In fact, the current Heart’s Herald editor-in-chief and local reporter at the time of her disappearance declared then and now that Monica left on her own, but when he is killed, Callie can’t help but believe that someone is attempting to cover up their tracks. Through research at the library and further questioning of those in Heart’s Harbor at the time, Callie learns that while Monica Walker may have wanted to escape her celebrity life and the stalker who accompanied it, her secrets aren’t the only ones being kept in the town.
This second in the series fully stands on its own as it envelopes readers in the unique setting of Heart’s Harbor. A charming teashop with book-themed pastries and confections is irresistible, as are the genuinely engaging and fully-formed inhabitants. Callie and Falk have a painfully realistic relationship, as neither seems willing to risk revealing their feelings through words. Just as Callie is reluctant to admit how much Falk was a reason for her deciding to move to Heart’s Harbor, he seems unable to accept that her move is actually permanent. Indeed, Callie understandably has doubts about the abrupt shift in her life, but she is finding creative ways to incorporate her love of sharing history with her new occupation. A pet portrait artist, not to mention her new Boston Terrier Daisy, make this an apologetically pet-friendly novel, and descriptions of teatime treats and sweet tea will appeal to foodie readers.
The plot unravels at a steady pace, with multiple twists and swerves delivering a surprising conclusion to even the most experienced mystery reader. Callie’s vulnerability, common sense, and determination to discover the truth make her the worthy star of this entertaining and well-plotted mystery.
Southern Sass and Killer Cravings: A Marygene Brown series by Kate Young
Review by Cynthia Chow
If Marygene Brown hoped to return home to Georgia’s Peach Cove without stirring up a lot of local gossip, diving into her car to retrieve her possessions as it was towed away on the main street was not the best way to go about it. Marygene had fled her small island home for the big city of Atlanta, but the traumatic end of her marriage had her returning home to help her sister run their late mother’s diner. Jena Lynn had been left alone to contend with their abrasive mother, who was furious at Marygene for leaving to attend Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. The relationship between Marygene and her mother never mended, which is why the latter’s ghostly presence is as unwanted as it is alarming.
Marygene had thought she was hearing things when she heard Mama’s voice warning her not to open The Peach Diner, proclaiming a direr prophesy that comes true when opinionated Mr. Ledbetter falls dead in his cake. Marygene’s worst fears come true when the poisoned powered sugar in Jena Lynn’s Mango Beer Cake is blamed, and she becomes the Atlanta Police Department Detective Davis Thornton’s main suspect.
Marygene’s relationship with Peach Cove Sheriff Edward Carter is just as rocky, as it was only after a date with Eddie’s son that she learned that she was the sheriff’s illegitimate daughter. That revelation when she was sixteen estranged her from both her biological parents, and now that she has finally eased the hurt and resentment held by her sister, Marygene is determined to prove Jena Lynn’s innocence and save the diner. The arrival of an Atlanta Journal Daily reporter threatens to upheave Marygene’s plans, as while Roy Calhoun initially intended to stay only for the filming of a turtle hatching project, a murder investigation is far more intriguing. Reluctant to trust either the handsome reporter or her high school ex-boyfriend Deputy Alex Myers, Marygene relies on her fellow returnee and friend Yvonne Brooks as they question residents, heirs, and land developers.
The spectral influence is wielded with a light touch in this slightly paranormal mystery, with the late Clara Brown unable to pass over until she makes amends. Her presence also hints that Marygene’s involvement in future murder investigations will continue, since along with a lot of ghostly opinions Clara may bring fellow needy spirits. Delicately balanced with the humor and romance are scenes of Marygene dealing with the trauma of domestic abuse, especially the fear and shame of being seen as a victim. Her panic attacks are vividly and sympathetically detailed, especially when she is faced with a further act of violence. Enticing recipes are included at the end of the chapter, although perhaps it’s best that the readers not completely replicate the To Die For Chocolate Mango Beer Cake with Chocolate-Coconut-Raspberry Frosting with tainted powdered sugar. As tasty as the other recipes may sound, readers will truly be drawn to Marygene as she gains enough strength and confidence to begin a new life in the place that never truly stopped being her home.
Strangled Eggs and Ham: A Country Store Mystery by Maddie Day
Review by Cynthia Chow
Things are heating up in South Lick, Indiana, and not just due to the normal August heat wave. Real estate developer Flora Closs is steadfastly mowing down trees for her Closs Creek Resort, despite vocal community protests and the lack of permit approval. As the owner of a bed & breakfast as well as the Pans ‘N Pancakes diner, Robbie Jordan sees the benefit for local businesses, but she can’t help but worry about the impact to its beautiful landscape. Her Aunt Adele has no doubts about her own position on the matter, rallying a “cell” of protestors to wage a battle to stop the project. They even manage to gain a pro-bono attorney in the form of attractive visiting bicyclist Gregory DeGraaf, who quickly gains a following that includes graduate student Lou Perlman. Unfortunately her flirtation barely gets off the ground before she finds Gregory dead at the construction site, with the construction crew and project head topping the suspect list.
Tension in town quickly escalates between local conservationists and those desperate for the business and money the resort would bring. As much as Robbie sympathizes with single mother construction worker Micaela “Mike” Stiverton, Flora Closs’s sketchy ethics and determination to get her way have Robbie siding with her aunt against the project. That makes Robbie and Adele targets for vandalism and intimidation, while the socially awkward investigating State Police Detective Oscar Thompson seems to be interrupting Robbie’s cooking more than solving a murder.
While Robbie may lament the murder victims and suspects that seem to keep popping up in her vicinity, readers will enjoy her accidental and still plausible involvement in solving them. That doesn’t mean that Robbie doesn’t find herself “in the weeds” and struggling to juggle her many tasks in the kitchen and on the floor, giving readers a vicarious experience of working within a busy restaurant. Robbie’s humor keeps her going, along with long distance phone calls from her boyfriend Abe O’Neill. The descriptions for breakfast foods are as tantalizing as the mystery, which continued to surprise all the way to its exciting reveal. This series written by the author who also writes under the name Edith Maxwell continues to grow in strength, and should attract new readers who love good cooking, fun characters, and great writing.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “food trie,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 3, 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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