by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have even more mysteries for your end of summer reading-A Glimmer of a Clue: A Fairy Garden Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber, Deadly Delights: A Bookish Baker Mystery by Laura Jensen Walker, Death of an Italian Chef: A Hayley Powell Mystery by Lee Hollis, and Reserved for Murder: A Booklover’s B&B Mystery by Victoria Gilbert. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.
A Glimmer of a Clue: A Fairy Garden Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber
Review by Sandra Murphy
Courtney lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The name is so delightful, you’d expect it to be an idyllic place to live. Not the case, as the residents are only human—at least most of them are. Some are fairies.
Open Your Imagination is Courtney’s fairy garden shop, a dream come true. As with most craft shops, she holds classes, and there are customers who attend every one plus make projects on their own or commission them for gifts. Fiona, a fairy in training, is often present although few can see her.
Lana Lamar is the woman everyone loves to hate, Didi and Wanda in particular. Lana likes to discover secrets and use them to her advantage. She’s also the resident pickleball champion and thinks that grants her all kinds of privileges. Lana’s an antique and art critic, emphasis on critic. She seems to relish the fact that no one likes her.
When Lana and Wanda are involved in an actual hair-pulling fight right out on the street, no one is really surprised since they seem to go out of their way to torment each other. Courtney’s had enough—this is tourist season and shoppers are stopping to stare. To cool the pair off, she turns a hose on them, letting the sudden spray of water get their attention.
At a long-awaited fundraiser, Lana makes a scene involving several people, one after another. It’s really no surprise when she’s found dead. The question on everyone’s mind is, what took so long?
The main suspect is a friend of Courtney’s. The evidence looks bad and the alibi is flimsy so Courtney agrees to ask questions. After all, the suspect list is a long one. With Fiona’s help, surely she can figure out who was behind Lana’s sudden demise.
This is book two in the series. Fiona, the fairy, fits in seamlessly with the other characters. There’s information about the different types of fairies and their duties, why Fiona is in training and what she must do to advance, and tips on building a fairy garden of your own. Courtney is becoming more confident as a business owner and is nearing a relationship. To keep the characters straight, a handy list is in the front of the book. This is a series I enjoy and look forward to the next installment.
Recipes are shown as standard and gluten-free: adult lemonade, baked fried chicken, blueberry lemon muffins, cheddar artichoke appetizer, cinnamon swirl scones, double chocolate cookies, lemon thyme biscuits, mint chocolate brownies, mushroom cheese puffs, and sugar cookies,
Gerber also writes the Cookbook Nook series, the French Bistro mysteries, the Aspen Adams suspense books, the Cheese Shop series, and several standalone books. The next Fairy Garden book, A Hint of Mischief, will be available in the summer of 2022.
Deadly Delights: A Bookish Baker Mystery by Laura Jensen Walker
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s August, that time of the year for the cooking competition that determines Wisconsin’s Best Baker of Lake Potawatomi. Despite the fact that Patsy Morris, the wife of Head Judge and chamber of commerce president Lester Morris, has won the title for the past nine years, Teddie St. John is optimistic about her chances of winning at least a prized ribbon. After surviving breast cancer, a double mastectomy, and leaving a safe government job to pursue her love of writing mysteries, Teddie is not averse to challenges or new adventures. The skills that led her to becoming a bestselling mystery author will be helpful when she discovers Lester’s body, face down in a coconut pie with his head bashed in by Teddie’s grandmother’s rolling pin.
With her beloved rolling pin and young Sophie Miller’s pie at the scene of the crime, it doesn’t take only Patsy’s hysterical accusations to have them both placed high on the suspect list. Lester’s groping hands and attitude earned him the name Lester-the-Molester and made ripe for the #MeToo movement, and both Teddie and Sophie experienced “first hand” his demands for favorable judgement. Fortunately for both, there is a growing list of those also with motives from wanting the CPA dead, so Teddie eagerly takes up the mantle as an aspiring Jane Tennison with neighbor Astrid Nilsen the Jessica Fletcher at her side. Along with Teddie’s best friends who make up their since-grade school Three Musketeers, the women track down financial shenanigans, illicit affairs, and even hilariously go undercover in a strip bar.
This second in the series focuses more on Teddie’s baking skills than on her background as a bestselling cozy mystery writer, placing it firmly in that comfort reading genre. Hopefully future installments will examine more of her life as a relatively new author, especially in light of the competitive publishing market. That’s not to say that the baking completion details aren’t a “delight,” especially since they include recipes and detailed descriptions of her baking process. Teddie’s romantic life with British suspense author Tavish Bentley is ongoing mostly through Skype until he can return for a visit, and she could use his advice when she suspects that her widowed mother may be keeping secrets. Teddie stands out as a unique and fascinating character, one who has survived so much and created an entirely new life. Details of how she wears scarves to hide her chest not for her own embarrassment but to save that of others highlights her compassion as well as her strength. A touching note from the author Laura Jensen Walker shares the struggles of writing during the terrifying times of the pandemic, yet one never senses that in the witty exchanges and lighthearted tone of the novel. The heartwarming conclusion and happy resolutions is a soothing balm for readers looking for a mouthwatering mystery that combines baking competitions, false confessions, and strippers.
Death of an Italian Chef: A Hayley Powell Mystery by Lee Hollis
Review by Cynthia Chow
For her husband’s going away dinner before he leaves Bar Harbor to report on a trial in New York City, Hayley Powell, Bruce, and her brother Randy are dining at the town’s hottest new Italian Restaurant Romeo. No one praises Chef Romeo Russo’s cooking more than himself, but upon seeing Hayley he immediately demands her honest, critical opinion of his spaghetti carbonara. Although she tries to wiggle out of it, the Island Times’ office manager and food columnist reluctantly admits that her own recipe is much better. With an ego as big as his personality, Romeo orders Hayley to return to cook her own version in his kitchen the following Monday. As much as Hayley adores sharing family stories and recipes in her Island Food & Spirits columns, the drudgery of managing the Island Times office has her feeling a little bored and unchallenged. That explains how she decides to agree and presents her dish to the chef, and its success and his approval get it placed at the top of his menu.
Less explicable is how she again somehow finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. After Randy suffers an attack of gallstones that requires surgery, he becomes the roommate of Romeo who is annoyed to have just had his own mild heart attack. So Romeo’s unexpected death in the hospital is certainly a shock, especially after Randy is certain that he saw someone tamper with the chef’s IV line. Randy’s husband, Police Chief Sergio Alvares, is away visiting family in South America, meaning that the investigation is in the hands of the newly hired, but very intimidating, Sergeant Vanessa Herrold. Both she and hospital administrators are inclined to view Randy’s observation as being delusional due to anesthesia, but he begs Hayley to investigate and prove that he was right. Weighing even more on Hayley’s shoulders is Romeo’s last plea to take over the restaurant while he was out, a responsibility his staff hopes she will continue as business surges and demand for her dishes increase. So, Hayley will be juggling the duties of managing a restaurant, writing her entertaining food and cocktails columns, and tracking down who ensured that Romeo served his last dish.
The authors keep this fourteenth of the series fresh by taking Hayley out of her normal environment and placing her in the drama-filled position of running a restaurant. When her cooking skills are combined with her abilities to manage an office, Hayley proves to be a surprisingly successful new restaurateur. It helps that she is being assisted by her usual cohorts in crime, besties Liddy and Mona. Both are at loose ends right now, with real estate agent Liddy frustrated at the dried up real estate marker while Mona is being pushed into retirement from Lobstering by her children. When it turns out that Liddy is a deft hostess and customers love Mona’s rude service, they prove to be as helpful as restaurant staff as they do investigating enablers.
Fans of Hayley’s exuberant Island Times columns will be thrilled by those included here, as the Italian dishes and inspired drinks are tantalizing and the stories that inspired them hilarious. This latest in the series is an entertaining blend of Hell’s Kitchen and Grey’s Anatomy, and Haley finds herself delving deep into the equally cutthroat and competitive worlds of restaurants and hospitals. Fun food columns, mouth-watering recipes, and the antics of the extremely likable Hayley and her friends make this yet another winner. Whether this is a starting point for an entire new series or simply veers into a different direction entirely, readers will hopefully be able to follow Hayley’s Bar Harbor family as they go onto their next adventure.
Reserved for Murder: A Booklover’s B&B Mystery by Victoria Gilbert
Review by Cynthia Chow
After the death of her rather mysterious great-aunt Isabella Harrington, Charlotte Reed gave up her career as a teacher to accept and run her inheritance of Chapters, a book-themed bed-and-breakfast in Beaufort, North Carolina. While famous romance writer Amanda Nobel plans to keep her stay at Chapters on the downlow, Charlotte hopes that the B&B will later benefit from the positive reviews and publicity Amanda promises to deliver later. Also in on the secret of Amanda’s presence are three uberfans who won a contest to spend an all-expense-paid vacation with their idol, not to mention the publisher’s representative who seems determined to control the author as much as possible. While Amanda admirably holds her own during a bookstore Q&A with an academic criticizing her lack of research and accurate historical details, further strife seems to be developing among the aforementioned fans. Surprisingly, accusations of plagiarism are thrown not at Amanda, but at the fan club president’s fan-fiction.
When the possible plagiarist is found murdered, there is a surplus of suspects all hovering in Beaufort. The late Lisette Bradford’s stalker ex-husband was reportedly seen at the author event, and an even more mysterious man has arrived next door to Chapters. Gavin Howard claims to be a relative of her neighbor Ellen Montgomery, but the former Intelligence Agent never mentioned that she would be having family arrive for a visit. Ellen’s past is closely tied with that of Isabella, as the two were ambitious Cold War agents willing to live double lives and manipulate others in order to track a Russian spy. Ellen and Charlotte had recently proved to be an impressive team when recently tracking down a murderer, so it’s not a huge surprise when Beaufort Police Detective Amber Johnson asks Charlotte to use her teacher-and-mystery-reading-honed skills to observe her guests and funnel information to the authorities.
The latter half of the book really kicks into gear as its explores the repercussions of Ellen and Isabella’s lives in espionage. The regrets and acceptance of their deceptions are as fascinating as Charlotte’s management of Chapters, which includes literary-themed rooms and an entertainingly diverse staff. This second in the series can easily be read without knowing anything of the previous, but it expands on the secrets that were introduced in the debut.
Charlotte has seen the downside of being “famous,” as her husband died a hero and had to continually be reminded of his loss. Talking to his portrait helps her to work through her thoughts and her complicated feelings towards the newcomers, including that of the mysterious “cousin.” Charlotte’s bookstore-owning friend is but one of her affectionate and supportive friends, and the banter between them all is envious and quippy. Bibliophiles and espionage fans will love this mix of cozy and suspense, and the finale delivers a surprising and hopeful conclusion.
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 “food fairies” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 4, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT MAY TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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