by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have reviews & giveaways of some fun July mysteries (with one June book thrown in) that all tie in to food and drink-Killer Green Tomatoes: A Farm-to-Fork Mystery by Lynn Cahoon, Italian Iced: An Ethnic Eats Mystery by Kylie Logan, Bought the Farm: A Farmer’s Daughter Mystery by Peg Cochran, S’More Murders: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan, and Last Call: Mack’s Bar Mystery by Allyson K. Abbott. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books (Killer Green Tomatoes will be an ebook copy, but the rest are print), along with links you can use to purchase them.
Killer Green Tomatoes: A Farm-to-Fork Mystery by Lynn Cahoon
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the summer heats up in River Vista, Idaho, Chef Angie Turner is focused on perfecting the recipe for her beloved Nona’s Fried Green Tomatoes. Not only would it help to complete the collection she’s gathering for a possible cookbook, it could also be featured as one of the rotating dishes in her Farm-to-Fork restaurant. Angie’s sous chef Estebe Blackstone is taking time off to prepare for July’s Basque Cultural Center’s festival of San Ignazio, but not before introducing Angie to his cousin Javier Easterly as a possible new source for fresh produce. She finds his fresh vegetables more appealing than the excessive amount of charm he exudes, which is fortunate as it seems that Javier already has his share of trouble with the ladies. When his latest girlfriend is found dead in an alley outside of the Red Eye Saloon, the police and gossip place him at the top of the suspect list.
Angie already has her plate full, what with running County Seat’s back of the house, raising a St. Bernard puppy, chicken, and goat, and inadvertently volunteering to care for her elderly neighbor. Angie can’t resist Estebe’s plea to help investigate, though, especially since she already successfully solved one murder. The pressure to prove Javier’s dubious innocence pales in comparison to that from the local busybodies who have made it their mission to marry her off to dairy farmer Ian McNeal, not to mention becoming all-to-familiar with First Responders due to her well-intended houseguest.
This is a mystery sure to have readers’ mouths watering through the tantalizing descriptions of both Basque delicacies and comfort cuisine. Details of restaurant operations are as fascinating as the mystery itself, which becomes far more intricate and deceptive than one would expect. Angie is someone more than capable of conducting an investigation, yet her involvement is never too intrusive or gets in the way of official police work. Angie still struggles with the very insular, small-town atmosphere that has everyone in everyone else’s business, which is why she left town and rarely returned. It is also why she has the guilt of leaving to pursue her own dreams, especially since it is back home that she finally achieves them. Many will relate to this conflict of leaving home in search of independence, but all will enjoy this clever, fun, and delicious novel featuring a such a strong, likable woman.
Italian Iced: An Ethnic Eats Mystery by Kylie Logan
Review by Cynthia Chow
It was just a year ago that Laurel Inwood arrived in Hubbard, Ohio, with the challenging goal of transforming her aunt’s struggling Terminal at the Tracks into a profitable restaurant. Introducing a rotating menu of ethnic cuisine to the comfort-food-loving Midwesterners wasn’t easy, but Laurel has learned to adjust her expectations for those with less than adventuresome palates. Once the personal chef to a Hollywood superstar, Laurel has found that the loss of access to an unlimited source of ingredients has the upside of no longer catering to the whims of an unreasonably demanding client. Which is why it is such a shock for Laurel to discover her former employer, the famous – and infamously temperamental – actress Meghan Cohan dead in the Terminal’s freezer.
It initially doesn’t look good for Laurel, who was abruptly and unjustly fired by Meghan for leaking secrets to the tabloids. Soon Laurel and the police have more suspects than they can keep track of though, as Meghan’s ex-husband, rebellious son, resentful staff, and social-media-stalking fans all descend upon Hubbard. There’s a reason so many were willing to put up with Meghan’s self-centeredness, and now everyone is ready to cash in on their share of her fame and estate. There may be another prize worth killing over at stake, as the Meghan’s disguised attempt to break into the Terminal was only the first of string of attempts at attacking Laurel’s restaurant, home, and even herself.
Readers will love what proves to be a mouth-watering mystery, as Laurel’s best ruminations and self-examinations take place as she prepares her Italian-themed meals. Being raised within the foster system has left its mark on Laurel, and seeing only dysfunctional relationships has her disbelieving that a healthy one can exist. Determined to change her mind is Declan Fury, the owner of Hubbard’s “Irish store,” who when not helping her uncover Meghan’s hidden past he distracts her by far more enjoyable means. The story whisks along at a brisk pace as Laurel finds herself once again amidst the celebrity elite, which helps to reconcile herself with the realization that Hubbard has become her true home. Just as transformative has been her neighbors’ gradual acceptance of “foreign” cuisines, and now Laurel is able to contrast their genial nosiness with Hollywood’s status-conscious shallowness. Laurel’s growth as she allows others into her life and heart makes this a rewarding series, and these emotional moments are perfectly balanced with her wry observations and sharp wit. The last page will have readers smiling with satisfaction and more than eager to try out one of the Terminal’s deliciously-described pasta delights.
Bought the Farm: A Farmer’s Daughter Mystery by Peg Cochran
Review by Cynthia Chow
Love is in the air during springtime at the Love Blossom Farm, and no one is more delighted than Shelby McDonald to be hosting the site of her best friend Kelly Thacker’s wedding. While most of the ceremony highlights the low-key charm of Shelby’s family farm, Kelly’s family connection has the winner of television’s America Can Sing contest performing with his band at the reception. Travis Cooper is a local boy who made it big, but “Debbie Coster’s boy” left behind a long trail of misdeeds and resentment. In fact, one of those not welcoming the singer home is the groom Seth Gregson, whose medical school applications were jeopardized by one of Travis’s college pranks.
The wedding goes off without a hitch, but unfortunately Shelby makes a gruesome discovery before the happy couple escapes to their honeymoon. Propped up in a macabre imitation of a scarecrow is Travis’s body, with method of his death a cruel use of the farm’s recycled water trough. Although Shelby never sets out to investigate, a frantic Kelly, the presence of the band still having practices on the farm, and the numerous Lovett residents on the suspect list make focusing on her zucchini crop impossible.
Using chapter-heading Farmer’s Daughter Blogs to give advice on the perfect pancake, the proper way to store root vegetables, and how to select a cooking chicken, Shelby also makes wry observations through internal “Dear Reader” quips to herself. Hopefully, the blog posts regarding the actual murder investigation stay in the draft folder. Further complicating her life are the three suitors vying for her attention. While it is an enviable situation, the widowed Shelby still mourns the recent loss of her husband, and her love for him confuses her feelings for her admiring brother-in-law. Shelby is realizing that she may soon be ready to move on, and opening herself up to love is as much a choice as rejecting another. Life in the charming – if rather nosy – town of Lovett continues on even as the investigation continues in the background, with Shelby being drawn into Church Ladies suspicion of the minister’s new girlfriend while Shelby’s teenaged daughter wages an admirable battle against bullying.
As motives and suspects increase in number due to Travis’s long history of selfish and unrepentant behavior, the final reveal proves to be as exciting as it is unexpected. Recipes and Shelby’s appreciation of farm-to-table cooking will have readers hungry as much for a mouth-watering meal as they will the next in this heart-warming, witty mystery series. Recipes for Love Blossom Farm Macaroni Salad, Cowboy Caviar, and Chicken with Orzo are included.
S’More Murders: A Five-Ingredient Mystery by Maya Corrigan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Val Deniston manages the café inside the local gym, serving up tasty lunches, smoothies, and healthy snacks. On the side, she’s starting to cater special events. When a local man, Otto Warbeck, contacts her about a ten-course meal on his yacht, replicating the last meal served on the Titanic, she’s sure the evening is going to be just about as successful as the ship’s maiden (and last) voyage.
They compromise on an updated menu and fewer courses, cook ahead, and are set to go with Val as chef, Grandad as bartender, and Bethany on hand to make s’mores, not a traditional dessert. Cheyenne (the trophy wife) asked for them.
It’s also an inter-active mystery game. Each guest plays a double role and has assigned dialogue. Beyond that, they are welcome to ad-lib. Cheyenne was surprised to find out Otto’s ex-wife and stepson were invited. All in all, the evening is pretty tense.
Guests wander to the bathrooms and bridge. A sudden squall puts them in some danger. As things settle down, it’s discovered there’s one less guest on board than when they started the trip. Will it be a rescue operation or a recovery? Several people seem interested in getting the clue booklets for the game, but why? The clues seemed rather pointed and aimed at the guests themselves.
The main thing to remember is, there were six guests, the hosts, three caterers, and one pilot on the open sea. If it was murder, the suspect list is limited, motive unknown, and opportunities enough that any one of them could have done it. Everyone has a secret worth killing for.
This is book five in the series. Grandad is always ready to try something new and proclaim himself an expert. Bethany makes a good best friend and colleague. There’s a bit of romance for Val but change is coming there and in her business. Readers will look forward to book six to find out what’s next.
Recipes are courtesy of the Codger Cook aka Grandad, and he won’t cook anything that has more than five ingredients—Chicken Lyonnaise, Chateau Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus Vinaigrette, S’mores Tartlets, and Savory Cheese S’mores. There’s a copy of the original Titanic menu for the fateful night and Val’s adaptation menu.
Last Call: Mack’s Bar Mystery by Allyson K. Abbott
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mack Dalton runs a bar. With the help of her friends, the Capone Club, she also helps her boyfriend, Duncan, a police detective, solve murders. Mack has a super-power of sorts. She has synesthesia, a neurological disorder that lets her taste the sound of a person’s voice (Duncan’s is like chocolate), or smell colors and more. It’s both a gift and a burden. During her childhood, it went undiagnosed which led people to think she was more than weird. Even now, it sometimes gets in the way.
When a particularly brutal murder occurs, it’s her first official investigation as her new position of consultant. Duncan believes in her ability but other cops, not so much. This time it’s different in that her good friend, Mal, also a cop, was on the scene when the victim died. He was undercover, and it makes him a prime suspect.
The discovery of a secret room leads to a shocking turn of events. Now the stakes are higher than ever. To say much more would give away too much of the plot, but rest assured, it’s a good one. The mystery unfolds at a good pace, information about synesthesia is woven throughout the story so other characters understand it as well as the reader. Mack is of the ticking biological clock age which has her questioning her life choices and making decisions about the future.
The side characters in the Capone Club are varied in age, occupations, and talents. They’re a good bunch of people who have Mack’s back no matter what. Her relationship with Duncan is heating up so, if Mal can be cleared of suspicion and the real killer found, things are looking up in both her business and personal life.
This is the sixth book in the series. My only problem with it is how much backstory told about previous murders. Every series has the issue—how much to tell. Because past events relate to current situations, it’s a delicate balance to let readers who are starting the series with the current book know how the characters got where they are without telling too much, in hopes the reader will go back and read previous books. In this case, I think Abbott tells a little too much so I’d advise either starting with book one (you won’t regret it) and reading your way forward or read this one, go back to the beginning and hope you don’t remember spoilers by the time you get to book five. It’s an enjoyable series. You’ll want to read them all.
To enter to win copies of all 5 books (ebook copy of Lynn Cahoon’s book, print of the others), simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “July food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 4, 2018. 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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