by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This is definitely the summer of food mysteries! This week we have another great group-Fudging the Books: A Cookbook Nook Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber, Revenge of the Chili Queens: A Chili Cook-Off Mystery by Kylie Logan, Death of an English Muffin by Victoria Hamilton, Death Under Glass by Jennifer McAndrews, and Dead Men Don’t Eat Cookies by Virginia Lowell. Details on how to win copies of all 5 book at the end of this post along with a link to purchase them.
Fudging the Books: A Cookbook Nook Mystery By Daryl Wood Gerber
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s February in Crystal Cove, California, and for Jenna Hart that means celebrating National Chocolate Month. Having recently left her PR career in San Francisco to open The Cookbook Nook with her aunt, Jenna hopes to increase profits by promoting chocolate cookbooks and chocolate-related books. Her best friend and store assistant Bailey Bird is doing her part by enticing her Chocolate Cookbook Club members into each purchasing a cookbook a week, with their first being the chocolate recipe book authored by their friend Coco Chastain. Coco even agrees to a speaking event, bringing along her copyeditor as well as her publisher, Alison Foodie. Although Coco and Alison stage an argument as a prank, Alison’s murder by cooking shears is much too real. With Deputy Cinnamon Pritchett still having residual high-school antipathy toward Alison and focusing the investigation on Coco, Jenna feels that she must use her local connections to help discover who made the final cut on the publisher.
Distracting the rest of Crystal Cove is Pirate Week, a tourist event filled with attractions to lure in visitors to the coastal town. While Jenna’s boyfriend Rhett tries to distract her with his climbing rock wall and enthusiastic immersion into pirate-speak, she enlists her friends into helping explore who in the cutthroat world of publishing may have wanted Alison permanently off the books.
By this fourth in the series, the author has lovingly created a town populated by an enviably amicable community. The novel is filled with numerous descriptions of and historical lore about everything chocolate, and even more intriguing are the details concerning independent publishers and their relationships with their authors. Although I rarely comment on covers (and refrain from judging books by them), this one’s depiction of gorgeous chocolate treats and Jenna’s absolutely adorable kitten Tigger in a tiny hammock is an irresistible work of art. This is a sweet treat of a mystery, full of genial characters and leading to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Revenge of the Chili Queens: A Chili Cook-Off Mystery By Kylie Logan
Review by Cynthia Chow
For Maxie Pierce, the only things hotter than the San Antonio, Texas weather are the chili and spices she serves out of her family’s Ha-Cha Chili Palace. Maxie and her sister Sylvia travel around the country in their RV along with the Chili Showdown, whose members present chili contests and events highlighting everything involved in preparing their spicy delicacies. Their latest promotion has them at the Alamo, hosting a week of charity events revolving around the famous 1938 Chili Queens. Those ladies started the tradition of preparing chili out of their homes, and now Maxie and her friends plan to ensure that chili remains at the center of people’s nightlives.
What Maxie does not approve of is the Consolidated Chili Corporation, known as Tri-C, a megalith that shells out–shudder–canned chili. While their use of Texas beauty queens may fit into a theme that also has drag queens dishing out samples, Maxie is incensed by Tri-C’s mass-market production of a sacred cuisine. But it is the very hot guitar player hired for the event who ends up strangled, ironically by his own guitar strings. Maxie’s tendency toward curiosity goes into overdrive when the most probable suspect turns out to be Chili Showdown’s security expert Nick Falcone, a man as spicy as he is mysterious.
The author of the League of Literary Ladies and the Button Box Mystery Series (as well those written by pseudonyms that include Miranda Bliss and Casey Daniels) here presents a heroine who is as fiery as the chili she loves: the self-proclaimed Chili Chick (who dances as a chili in stilettos and fishnet stockings to attract customers) doesn’t lack in assertiveness, and her brazen personality often gets her in trouble. Nothing exasperates Maxie more than secrets, and the two men in her life have the most of them. Her adored father continues to remain absent, and solving his mystery may shatter some of her ideals. That Nick Falcon refuses to alibi or explain himself frustrates Maxie to a level that is matched only by his attractiveness. Hilarious characters add to the fun, and the result is that this is a rollicking read full of red-hot romance, quick banter, and an enjoyably unpredictable ending.
Death of an English Muffin by Victoria Hamilton
Review by Sandra Murphy
Merry Wynter is still struggling to keep Wynter Castle up and running, or at least not falling down, until she can sell it. She bakes muffins for the retirement home and the luncheonette, and takes in long-term guests to make ends meet. First it was just Pish, Merry’s male BFF and his Aunt Lush. She’s the dotty kind of aunt, sweet and rambling, cute as can be. Somehow, Lush’s four friends also move in. Well, they were right on the doorstep and who can turn away old ladies who also have money? Not Merry.
She soon regrets that decision. Cleta is a mean-mouthed old gal and says whatever will cause the most disturbance at the time. Is it for attention or just for the sake of hurting others? Barbara is a whiner. Nothing suits her and no one has it as bad as she does. Patsy is the beer heiress who misses her daughter, a fifty-something woman still known as Pattycakes. The fourth is a retired B-movie actress, Vanessa.
During an afternoon entertainment of cards—bridge, faro, poker—people are in and out of the room, some for the buffet, some for the bathroom, and a few just wandering. When there are complaints that the downstairs bathroom has been locked for quite a while, Merry investigates and finds Cleta’s body. What’s first thought to be a natural death by heart attack is ruled a homicide. The question is—who did it, and how? The bathroom was locked from the inside.
The suspects are many—pretty much anyone who ever met Cleta would have murderous thoughts at some point. Was it her niece, who Cleta said was trying to kill her, the four friends who know each other’s secrets, or someone as yet unknown? It’s a challenge for Merry as she tries to figure out her own life, Cleta’s death, and how the past circled around when least expected.
The cast of characters are many, including Merry’s friends, townspeople, workers at the castle, a couple of school-aged girls, folks from the retirement home, and Virgil the sheriff (who’s got Merry’s attention). Each has their own backstory, so there’s a lot of information.
This is the third book in the series; Bran New Death and Muffin But Murder were the first two. Merry is coming into her own, recovering from the death of her husband and taking an interest in the people around her—especially Virgil. She’s realizing she doesn’t want to sell the castle, so what to do? The side characters are varied and a treat to meet. Wynter Castle is a place you’d like to stay—not only a fabulous house, but Merry’s a good cook as well. She shares her recipes for Chicken Spaghetti and Bacon and Peanut Butter Muffins at the back of the book. Hamilton also writes the Vintage Kitchen mysteries that you won’t want to miss.
Death Under Glass by Jennifer McAndrews
Review by Sandra Murphy
Georgia Kelly is temporarily—well, probably temporarily—staying with her grandfather a/k/a Grandy. Her job tanked, the fiancé followed, and really, where else could she go? This is just a stop along the way to whatever comes next. Really.
In the meantime, she helps with the books at Grandy’s movie/dinner theater, works with stained glass that’s sold at her friend Carrie’s antique shop, and tries to stay out of trouble… which is harder than it sounds. Carrie and Georgia are in the middle of a sales pitch to Trudy who’s opening a new bed-and-breakfast in town, when Carrie gets a phone call: a building she and her ex-husband own is on fire.
When they arrive, it’s a relief to know no one was inside at the time, but where is Russ? Her ex is conveniently/mysteriously on a fishing trip, destination unknown. Carrie’s left to handle the mess, the insurance company—and the police, because it was definitely arson.
They run into Melanie, Russ’s receptionist, who takes the opportunity to dump a box of papers and photos on Carrie “because Russ said you like old stuff and this is old stuff.” Fine, one more thing to take care of for the husband she never wants to see again.
If it isn’t bad enough that the building was torched, Carrie’s antique shop is broken into and a lot of glassware, including Georgia’s stained glass, is destroyed. Things are going from bad to worse—and the worse is murder.
Russ’ law partner is killed. He’s a sweet older guy: who could have a motive for a man like that? He’s not a criminal lawyer, after all. It all has to tie back to Russ.
When Russ finally shows up, it’s to find his office gone, his partner dead, and his ex-wife fed up to the gills. He, of course, has to make a point of letting her know he’s the aggrieved party… and oh, by the way, did she know he’s engaged? With his personality, or lack thereof, it’s a wonder there wasn’t a second murder, right then and there.
Georgia snoops around asking a few questions, just to help Carrie, of course. There’s a lot going on besides arson and murder, though. Georgia has a date with Tony, who’s revitalizing the old brickworks into a tourist-attracting marina to boost the town’s economy. In a more stunning move (Georgia was stunned, anyway), she’s also asked out by Chris, the police detective. Of course, she fumbled that one, but there’s a chance he might ask again. On the other hand, she’s so out of practice, that her future could be limited to watching Hollywood Hoofers with her cat.
The mystery is a good one, with all bits and pieces coming together at the end, like a stained glass design. The snapshot of small-town life makes you feel welcome, ready to sit down at Grandy’s theater for a movie and some bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers to start, or to wander into Carrie’s shop to look for a bargain. I was glad to learn more about stained glass, how Georgia selects the glass, plans the design, and blends the colors. Georgia might think her stay with Grandy is temporary, but I think she’s home at last.
The first book in the series is Ill-Gotten Panes, and was reviewed for KRL.
Dead Men Don’t Eat Cookies by Virginia Lowell
Review by Sandra Murphy
Olivia and Maddie own The Gingerbread House where they sell cookie-cutters of all vintages, cookbooks, and everything a cookie baker could need in the way of decorations and icing. Somehow, they also manage to be the target of Binnie, whose online newspaper stopped just short of lies… and whose current blog doesn’t. The subject of one of Binnie’s biggest rants is ironically, small in size if not attitude—Olivia’s five-pound Yorkshire terrier, Spunky.
Olivia’s mom, Ellie, has to be seen to be believed. She’s into yoga in a big way and is currently renovating the old Chatterly boarding house into a arts and crafts center. So far, only the kitchen is finished (so the crew can have meals on site). While Olivia and Maddie bake cookies, workers begin to tear out walls in need of repair upstairs, and find old bones—and more.
Gossip spreads faster than icing on a hot cookie in the small town and soon rumor has it that the bones belong to Kenny Vayle, last seen headed for a job interview five years ago. He’d been a drunken dreamer, so no one put much effort into looking for him. Crystal, his wife, sure didn’t hesitate to replace him with various “husbands” of a temporary nature. His daughter, Alicia, always thought he’d come back for her, though.
It seems Kenny’s bones weren’t the only items of interest found in the wall—no spoilers here—but as imaginations run wild, Olivia and Maddie research the history of the building and the Chatterly family.
On the modern front, Alicia is having problems with Kurt. He’s in his mid-twenties and she’s only nineteen, okay now, but he’s been obsessed with her since she was twelve and he was the one who was nineteen. Eww! Kurt’s a computer nerd/gangsta wannabe with a temper and a switchblade, always a bad combination.
Keeping up with Ellie, the shop, and mysteries present and past, keep Olivia and Maddie busy for sure. Of course, a little investigating into a cold case couldn’t hurt, right?
Olivia and Maddie’s friendship is one to envy. Ellie, well, she could take some getting used to, what with being so very Zen. Side characters include Olivia’s brother Jason and his friend (who’d like to be more) Dolly; Olivia’s honey, Del the cop; Pete and Ida from the diner (Pete’s meatloaf is to die for, but he shares the recipe with readers); and a crowd of others, each with their own unique quirks.
Just like eating cookies, when you reach the end, you’re left wanting just a bit more. This is Book Six in the series—check the archives for reviews of previous titles.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 food Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “even more,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 8, 2015. 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.
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