by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
As summer heads for the home stretch, here are a few more fun mysteries from Penguin & Kensington authors to see you through the rest of summer! We have food, crafts, and fashion. Grilling the Subject: Cookbook Nook Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber, Knit Your Own Murder: A Needlecraft Mystery by Monica Ferris, Shots in the Dark: A Mack’s Bar Mystery by Allyson K. Abbott, and Silk Stalkings: A Material Witness Mystery by Diane Vallere. Details on how to enter to win copies of all 4 books at the end of this post along with links to purchase them.
Grilling the Subject: Cookbook Nook Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jenna Hart runs the Cookbook Nook in Crystal Cove, California. It’s a fun job, working with her aunt who reads tarot cards for customers, her BFF Bailey, and the super creative chef, Katie. This week is even better since it’s the Wild West Extravaganza (WWE). Shane Maverick, who Jenna worked with before she got hooked on cookbooks, is in charge of the event.
Jenna’s not tempted. He might be nice to look at, but she’s got Rhett and who needs anything more? This week is filled with barbecue, grilled foods, coach races, pole weaving horses, and Texas skip—a way to do vertical jump roping which is harder than it looks and burns a lot of the calories she’ll take in at the food vendors.
On the home front, her dad is plenty angry. Sylvia lives just a few doors away, and she’s taking over the neighborhood. The lots were odd-shaped so one area was used as common ground until Sylvia decided it should be hers. Her husband, Ronald, a dean at the college, can’t seem to rein Sylvia in.
It’s no surprise when Sylvia’s body is found in the common area. Sylvia never met anyone she didn’t consider a potential enemy. She tried to buy the house Shane wanted, was rude, and felt entitled in any situation. Her attitude alone was enough to put her on the Most Likely to Be Killed List.
Ronald says he saw Jenna’s father, Cary, running away from the scene. Cary says he was miles away, fishing alone. D’Ann is a movie star who lives in the neighborhood and hates Sylvia. It’s mutual. Ava, the real estate agent, stands to lose business if Sylvia keeps messing up her home sales. It seems even Shane has a motive.
If that isn’t enough, Jenna thinks she’s being stalked. She keeps seeing a shadowy man watching her and is sure someone was peeking in her windows. She’s unable to get a good look. It wasn’t her imagination!
This is book five in the Cookbook Nook Mystery series. Jenna is really coming into her own. She’s even learning to cook and has shared recipes at the back of the book. There’s Balsamic barbecue sauce, barbecue muffins (with ground beef and cheddar cheese in a muffin cup), beef and pinto beans chili, corn on the grill, corn tomato salad, turkey meat loaf, St. Louis barbecue sauce, margarita barbecue sauce for chicken, Memphis barbecue sauce, Spanish rice, spoon bread and spicy chocolate fudge.
Even if you’re not Western at heart, the murder and Jenna’s stalker, plus the camaraderie at the Nook, the friendliness of the townspeople and the great food will be more than enough to keep you entertained.
Knit Your Own Murder: A Needlecraft Mystery by Monica Ferris
Review by Sandra Murphy
Betsy Devonshire, owner of Crewel World needlework shop, volunteered to help raise funds to refurbish a small building that houses restrooms and a snack bar in the park. The Monday Bunch are knitting and stuffing animals of all kinds—a ram, rooster, fruit bat, Paddington bear, a leopard, and a stunning dragon. To honor their contribution, seven knitters who’d made the most toys will be on stage and knit as the auctioneer urged bidders to go even higher.
One worry was the death of Harry Whiteside. He was a local real estate mogul who’d been in sharp competition with two others, Joe Mickels and Maddy O’Leary, over a building on Water Street. Harry’s house had been vandalized, and it was assumed he’d interrupted a robbery.
The seven honorees have selected which yarns they want to knit during the bidding. Maddy O’Leary has chosen a navy blue merino wool. As she knits, she goes faster and faster until she’s struck by a sudden debilitating headache and chest pain. Although there are medical people in the audience, and assistance was immediate, Maddy is pronounced dead at the hospital. A stroke or heart attack is likely.
However, tests verify that Maddy was poisoned. An abrupt woman with few social skills, it’s hard to think anyone would kill her. It doesn’t escape notice that Joe Mickels is the only bidder on the Water Street property who’s still standing. When he asks for Betsy’s help to prove his innocence in Maddy’s death, she can’t refuse—or is it she can’t resist a mystery? Are the two deaths related?
Meanwhile, Goddy, her assistant, has good news to share which, knowing Goddy, can’t be without angst. Business at the shop has been down, even for the beginning of the year so that’s another worry.
In spite of Maddy’s collapse, the auction was a stunning success. Most of the Monday Bunch have knit enough and are in the mood for updates on Betsy’s investigation. There are any number of suspects but the pool of those who could actually pull it off, small.
This is book nineteen in the Needlecraft Mystery series. Readers are given a closer look into Goddy and Raphael’s private lives which adds depth to the long running series. Each of the Monday Bunch get a bit bigger role as well. The plot is unusual, and although I figured out who did it, there was still the how and why left to explain. Chaz, Maddy’s assistant, is a great addition to the cast—readers will want to see more of him. Betsy’s relationship with boyfriend Connor is beginning to change, too, so there’s a lot to look forward to in future books.
Shots in the Dark: A Mack’s Bar Mystery by Allyson K. Abbott
Review by Cynthia Chow
For most of her life, Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton felt like an outsider and a freak. Born with the neurological disorder synesthesia, Mack experiences two senses at the same time, tasting what she sees, or perhaps smelling what she hears. This two-for-one experience was something she always considered a curse, until it became a gift. Since the death of her father and inheriting the bar that shares her namesake, Mack has used her abilities to investigate and solve crimes. The police haven’t exactly welcomed her input, and to save the job of her Milwaukee homicide detective boyfriend Duncan Albright, they faked a breakup while Mack pretends to date undercover officer Mal O’Reilly.
Mack has also attracted the attention of the police, local press, and a homicidal stalker through the Mack Bar’s Capone Club, an informal cold case squad with a rotating group of uniquely talented members. What only Mack and a few of her most trusted friends know is that someone has targeted her with threatening challenges, with Mack’s inability to solve the puzzles in time being fatal. A car accident resulted in both Mack’s failure to meet a literal deadline and a broken leg, a huge inconvenience during the December snowy season. Having sworn off investigating open crimes, Mack and the Capone Club tentatively agree to look into the tried and convicted case brought by Sandra Middleton. Sandra swears that her brother Benjamin would never have murdered his wife Tiffany Gallagher, a wealthy heiress shot to death in their car after a vacation in Door County. Despite the ample blood evidence, testimony that Benjamin had purchased a gun, and his father-in-law’s statements that the couple was arguing, Mack’s ability to taste and smell lies has her believing in Ben Middleton’s innocence.
Through computer research, evidence examinations, and the observations by the diversely populated Capone Club members, Mack, Duncan, and Mal engage in methodical and logical investigations on several fronts. Keeping their involvement in the lethal letter puzzles a secret from the others involves disguises and playacting, something that is becoming a little too close to method acting between Mack and Mal. Mack’s synesthesia helps them to sift out the lies from the truth, but they are still required to follow a labyrinth of clues that challenge all of their experience and knowledge. The inclusion of the investigative reporter who exposed them to the public will test their trust, even as provides them with significant access to files and records.
Having Tiffany’s death occur in the past helps to distance her from the reader, countering some of the graphic evidence and violence that could be too disturbing. This fourth in the Mack’s Bar Mystery series pursues the two investigations through a complicated mystery that will surprise even the most experienced of readers. Mack’s synesthesia adds a fascinating and unique element, but it’s never overplayed as a tool for her very intelligent reasonings. Despite the condition that often finds her overwhelmed and burdened as an outsider, Mack stands out as a sympathetic and genuinely likable heroine.
Silk Stalkings: A Material Witness Mystery by Diane Vallere
Review by Cynthia Chow
After using her Material Girl fabric store to successfully transform the Tea Totalers teashop into a Parisian nightclub for the Midnight in Paris benefit party, Polyester Monroe receives another promising offer. San Ladrón, California is hosting their annual Miss Tangorli beauty pageant, and Nolene Kelly wants Poly to provide the fabric, help design, and then create dresses for the twenty contestants. The assistant to Harvey Halliwell of Halliwell Industries, Nolene hopes to level the playing field for the young women who spend a fortune to compete after managing to pass the restrictive qualification regulations.
Harvey Halliwell revitalized San Ladrón when he imported and further developed the genetic hybrid Tangorli tree, and the Miss Tangorli pageant continues to consume the town despite several scandals. When Poly discovers Harvey’s body just after witnessing his previous collapse and recovery, she is drawn into the investigation as it circles around both her romantic interest Vaughn McMichael and her friend, prickly mechanic Charlie Brooks. The trauma of being given up for adoption, rotating through foster homes, and then discovering her biological parents in San Ladrón, has given Charlie serious trust issues that make helping her a challenge. Miscommunications and mistaken assumptions run rampant through San Ladrón, but Poly is doing everything she can to bring out the truth and hopefully resolve the troubled relationships of those closest to her.
What is intriguing here is that the author does not exploit the usual catty dynamics between the contestants. Instead, she focuses on the machinations that go on behind the scenes, propelling and financing the beauty pageant. The contest could propel the careers of competitors, but it also serves as a promotional tool for Halliwell Industries. The division between the wealthy and poor, class structures, and the struggle to cross them all is fully and fascinatingly explored. Poly finds herself relying on her egotistical former employer, and Poly’s interactions with the descending sewing ladies—you may call THEM “girls”—are a delight. Poly’s own thoroughly entertaining parents drop in to help at the Material Girl, and cats, Pins and Needles, continue their joyful antics. This is a town where the businesses have whimsical names—the bath shop is Bubble, Bubble,Toil, and Trouble, Flowers in the Attic is an antique store—but the seriousness of the town’s reliance on the pageant is never ignored. Poly proves to be a stellar investigator with a practical regard for her safety, and she is gifted with a wisdom that belies her years. As Poly becomes more confident with her business sense, her ability to maintain a relationship, and her skill at uncovering the truth, she fully earns the lead role in this thoughtfully plotted and well-crafted mystery series.
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 “august,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 20, 2016. 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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