by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have reviews & giveaways of 4 more Penguin mysteries: Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay, Cross-Stitch Before Dying: An Embroidery Mystery by Amanda Lee, Pall in the Family: A Family Fortune Mystery By Dawn Eastman, and The Cakes of Wrath (A Piece of Cake Mystery) By Jacklyn Brady.
Cloche and Dagger By Jenn McKinlay
Review by Sandra Murphy
Scarlett Parker had a tiny meltdown and everybody made a big deal out of it. The man she’d been dating said he was separated from his wife and she believed him–until she walked into a party and found out it was his anniversary bash. Cake throwing ensued, someone got it on their cell phone and Scarlett went viral. Other girlfriends came out of the woodwork, but wouldn’t you know, people only remember the one who dug her hand into the expensive cake and threw handfuls at the happy couple.
Scarlett’s got dual citizenship and a part ownership in a millinery boutique in London. Her cousin Vivian convinced Scarlett that her life is in the “loo” and it’s time to make hats instead. After a few too many “You’re the girl in the video!” sightings, Scarlett agrees and hops the next flight out.
On arrival though, Vivian is missing without explanation, just “on a shopping trip.” A strange man meets Scarlett at the airport and she’s surprised to find out she knew him from long ago trips to visit Mimi, her grandmother. Talk about jumping into the frying pan! No notes from Vivian, but a good shop assistant to help run things. Then of course, the high society customer and her husband come to pick up her custom order hat and no one can find it.
Scarlett remembers the wardrobe had a tricky catch and inside is a beautiful green cloche–ah, happy customer! It’s a good thing the woman liked the hat because when her dead body was found, it was the only thing she was wearing.
Scarlett had promised publicity photos of the Lady in the hat. Unfortunately, that made her the one to find the body and make herself a suspect of sorts, but she’s more interested in finding Vivian. There’s also the mystery of the man who accompanied the murder victim to the shop. It sure wasn’t the man who is introduced to Scarlett as the husband.
There is a nice amount of detail about hats without getting too technical, give and take between Scarlett and Harry (it’s Harrison) her old time friend, a view of high society and a bit of London mixed with Scarlett’s American background.
This is the first in a new series and I look forward to the next installment. Wherever Scarlett is, she’s bound to have a life worth reading about.
Other books by Jenn McKinlay include:
The Cupcake Bakery Series:
Sprinkle with Murder, Buttercream Bump Off, Death by the Dozen, Red Velvet Revenge, Going, Going, Ganache
The Library Lovers Series:
Books Can Be Deceiving, Due or Die, and Book, Line and Sinker
Cross-Stitch Before Dying: An Embroidery Mystery By Amanda Lee
Review by Cynthia Chow
Although Seven Year Stitch embroidery shop owner, Marcy Singer, is thrilled with her new romantic life, she’s not quite prepared for the emotional turmoil attached to being the girlfriend of a police detective. After witnessing a shooting and police chase of a robbery suspect, Marcy is more than ready for a little escape to San Francisco for her mother’s latest movie project. A renowned Hollywood costume designer, Beverly Singer has just signed on to design the wardrobe for a new Bollywood-style biopic, staring the latest train-wreck former child star, Babushka Tru. Marcy’s good friend and librarian, Rajani “Reggie” Singh, skilled in the Indian white embroidery art of chikankari, is enlisted to accompany with Marcy to San Francisco to meet with the director and actress, but Reggie’s knowledge and background has the entire movie set returning with them to film in their town of Tallulah Falls, Montana.
Unfortunately, the troubled and demanding “BTru” continues her bad behavior, culminating in an argument with Beverly Singer over her inability to properly fit a dress and Babushka’s incapacity to resist an extra cookie. This would be disruptive enough on a movie set, even if it didn’t result in Babushka’s fatal fall and Beverly being seen as the most likely suspect. Marcy’s blossoming relationship with Detective Ted brings forth the realization that she is falling for someone who risks his life daily, and recent cases of identity theft and brazen bank thefts have him less available than usual.
Babushka has alienated no small number of coworkers, family members and lovers in her short life, but crafty readers should be able to identify the most likely culprit early on. However, it is the relationship between Marcy and her mother which proves to be most fascinating in this sharply written novel. Now content in her romantic life, Marcy renews her relationship with her mother who definitely seems to be hiding something. Always ready to help others in a crisis, Beverly isolates herself emotionally as well as physically, and it will be a delicate task for Marcy to breach her mother’s defenses.
While embroidery details take a sideline there is no end to the fun, sometimes sad, but always savory details of Hollywood scandals surrounding the flailing starlet who even in death continues to be exploited by book deals and tabloids. Marcy and her beloved oversized puppy Angus are charming, even as she relentlessly pursues all avenues of investigation to clear her mother’s reputation.
The sixth in the series, author Amanda Lee keeps the mysteries fresh by introducing new characters while continually developing the heroine and her friends. Readers will enjoy this cozy mystery with a very intelligent lead character, whose devotion to her loved ones is unrelenting but never blind. The author has also handled the romantic dilemma faced by Marcy in a manner that is never manipulative or frustrating to the reader. I’m enjoying this crafty mystery series that continues to successfully balance a light tone and humor with a dramatic plot and serious issues.
Pall in the Family: A Family Fortune Mystery By Dawn Eastman
Review by Cynthia Chow
After an “incident” with the Ann Arbor Police Department, Clytemnestra “Clyde” Fortune is placed on administrative leave and retreats back home to the town of Crystal Haven, Michigan. The discovery of a large deposit of crystals in the 1800s attracted large numbers of spiritualists to the tourist-friendly Lake Michigan area, along with psychics, new-agers and the spa-friendly. Included among those early arrivals was Clyde’s grandmother, a woman with a strong psychic talent that saved her parents from the Depression. Those talents were passed on in a more diluted form to Clyde’s mother, a passable tarot card reader, and Clyde’s Aunt Vi, a pet psychic with even more dubious animal communication skills. Clyde would never call the women out-and -out frauds, mostly because they are family and she has just moved back into their home.
The recipient of the visions of the future seems to have skipped a generation and fallen upon Clyde’s unwanted shoulders, a gift she rejects since it leaves her dreaming of tragedy and trauma without any ability to prevent them. Premonitions of the deaths of some of her most beloved caused Clyde to cut off her powers and flee to Maine, where her one attempt to ignore the facts and rely on her feelings led to a tragic shooting. Now back home in Crystal Haven, Clyde is taking time-out and working as a dog walker, along with the teenage son of her more adjusted “perfect” sister who has the more advantageous gift of making money.
When they go to pick up one of their furry charges they discover the body of his human, Sara Landess, a lawyer and psychic. Thanks to Clyde’s intimidating blue and brown-eyed glare as well as the fact that she once babysat the eager, puppy-doggish responding first officer, she is able to leave the scene early along with Tuffy, Sara’s traumatized Shih Tzu. Her reprieve doesn’t last for long though, and soon Clyde finds herself being questioned by the last man she would have expected; Mac McKenzie, who left Crystal Haven eight years ago, breaking her heart and whom she had once had visions of marrying.
Having sworn off ever using her “gifts,” Clyde is more than a little hurt that her detective skills are unwanted and that even the green rookie officer, Tom Andrews, hopes to exploit her psychic readings. Clyde’s mother and the unstoppable Aunt Vi are more than willing to take up the slack and hope to pull Clyde back into the family business. Clyde herself is more concerned that Tisha, a close family friend who herself once babysat Clyde, seems to be avoiding Clyde along with the fact that Tisha had been disputing with Sara. Clyde may be able to push aside her unwanted “feelings,” but she is unable to turn off her detective skills.
What emerges as most entertaining in this mystery by debut author, Dawn Eastman, is how well she slowly develops her characters and prevents them from being two-dimensional caricatures. Aunt Vi could have been an unlikable, self-absorbed irritant with delusions of her own abilities were it not for the gradual reveal of the tragedies and loves that have formed her into what she is today.
The paranormal aspect is surprisingly realistic and matter-of-fact amongst the townspeople, and the reader is never entirely sure whether the women are actual psychics or simply intuitive. What one never doubts is Clyde’s devotion to her family and her need to solve the murder. The mending of the relationship between Clyde and Mac is also tentatively explored. What is refreshing is that he never acts the buffoon and his orders for her to stay out of his investigation are motivated by caution and legalities, not out of arrogance or ignorance. He is in fact a very canny detective who is up to the task of matching wits with the Fortune Family.
Clyde proves to be a talented investigator herself with or without her “extra” skills, and she is a very likable heroine with the humor to cope with her eccentric relatives. It seems that only her doggy clients have the ability to outwit Clyde with their chicanery, drool and food-stealing skills, an added element sure to please the sternest of heart.
The Cakes of Wrath (A Piece of Cake Mystery) By Jacklyn Brady
Review by Cynthia Chow
While Rita Lucero vows to learn how to “Just say no,” you would never know it from the actions in this fourth of the “A Piece of Cake Mysteries” featuring the pastry chef and co-owner of Louisiana’s Zydeco Bakery. Her not-so-silent business partner and nearly-ex, but definitively former mother-in-law, Miss Frankie Renier, somehow managed to coerce Rita in representing their exclusive cake bakery at a meeting of the new Magnolia Square Business Alliance, designed to improve the area and where she is expected to run as a board member. However, the meeting soon degenerates into chaos and shouted demands that a chronically absent member be booted out. The bosomy and skin-revealing Destiny Hazen is not your typical business leader, making her demand that she be allowed to run for president as outrageous as her lace and leather bikini tops.
Rita is further pulled in a direction she’d rather avoid when Destiny’s husband, Moose Hazen, pleads with Rita to allow Destiny to join a charity drive despite apprehensions concerning her previous drug possession charges. Whatever courage Rita might have gathered to refuse is demolished when Moose saves her life by tackling her out of the path of a careening van. The employees of Zydeco Bakery are less enthusiastic about Destiny’s participation, and when the prescription drugs Rita obtained to cope with Moose’s aggressive save go missing, she fears that they may have been have been right.
Without any sure destination or goal, Rita finds herself stumbling into the Hazen’s Chopper Shop only to discover Destiny dead, with Rita’s missing painkillers clutched in her hand. This places Rita directly in the path of obnoxious and relentless narcotics officer, Detective Aaron Winslow, who believes that Rita was either Destiny’s drug supplier or Moose’s mistress.
With New Orleans Police Department, Detective Liam Sullivan, away on vacation, Rita has to rely on her staff, her controlling but well-meaning mother-in-law and potential love interest bartender and bar owner, Gabriel Broussard, for help even as she gets herself immersed in the tumultuous personal lives around her. Rita must negotiate between her unexpectedly pregnant thirty-five year old bakery manager, Edie Bryce, and the baby shower plans that have Miss Frankie inviting Edie’s very disapproving parents. In a deal that somehow resulted in Rita’s getting the short end of the stick she also managed to hire/babysit Miss Frankie’s cousin Pearl Lee, a spoiled former trophy wife who managed to run through her money but not through her ability to fun after potential geriatric sugar daddies.
In this fourth of the mysteries featuring baker Rita Lucero, the author continues to highlight the scenery of New Orleans while also including fun details about cake decorating and the bakery business. It is frustrating to watch Rita get bulldozed over by the many other forceful and exuberant personalities, so her final ability to help others while standing up for herself proves to be rewarding. Tasty recipes are of course included at the end, but readers will more likely appreciate their descriptions and the skillful writing in this light-hearted mystery featuring over-top-characters and fun dialogue. When a character is named “Aquanettia,” readers should expect the zaniness that seems prevalent in the beautiful, historical, absurd New Orleans.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “September,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September, 14 2013. U.S. residents only.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!