September Penguin Food Mysteries

Sep 20, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Food Fun, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy

We have 3 new food penguins this week-Death is Like a Box of Chocolates: A Chocolate Covered Mystery by Kathy Aarons, Rebel Without a Cake by Jacklyn Brady, and The Wedding Soup Murder by Rosie Genova. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win copies of all 3, and a link to purchase them where a portion goes to help support KRL!

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates: A Chocolate Covered Mystery By Kathy Aarons
Review by Cynthia Chow

Best friends for two years, Michelle Serrano and Erica Russell dreamed of a way to combine their passions of chocolate and books. The result was Chocolates and Chapters. To celebrate the store’s one-year anniversary, the women are hosting the Great Fudge-Off, a competition to kick off the Memorial Day Weekend Arts Festival in their town, West Riverdale, Maryland. What began as a small promotional event has become a burgeoning tourist attraction. Michelle, Erica, and Erica’s sister Colleen are feeling the pressure as the rest of the town’s local businesses and charities gamble their profits on the festival. book

A guest judge will be Hillary Punkin, the star chef whose television food program can make or break a business by her seemingly random approvals and criticism. Then, Chocolates and Chapters’ neighbor portrait photographer, Denise, is found dead with a poisoned Amaretto Palle Dark truffle foaming from her mouth. With her kitchen shut down and the Great Fudge-Off in jeopardy, Michelle feels that the success or failure of the entire festival rests on her shoulders. Although the police look with suspicion at Michelle and Erica, the women have Erica’s ex-boyfriend Lieutenant Bobby Simkin in their corner—even if they are no longer dating. Also on hand to assist is Benjamin “Bean” Russell, Erica and Colleen’s brother, a world-renowned journalist and Michelle’s teenaged crush. Together they will conduct their own investigation that includes a project plan, surveillance of Denise’s loser ex-boyfriend, and engaging in some borderline breaking-and-entering

While the initial formula may seem familiar, Aarons puts her own twist on the genre with her realistic and appealing characters. Michelle’s brother Leo returned from Afghanistan missing a leg, his optimism, and his ability to experience joy. Being needed by his sister helps to bring him back to life in the “Mayberry of Maryland.” An admitted chocolate snob (Michelle is a chocolatier or chocolate artisan, never a candy-maker or, heaven forbid, a baker), the former underachiever has found her purpose in life. Michelle’s descriptions of the unique chocolate combinations and creations will have readers’ mouths watering. Her venture into exotic—and shall we say, adult chocolates will definitely have readers giggling.

This mystery blends chocolate with murder and continues to surprise. The friends investigate with a sense of humor that acknowledges their limitations. An adorable tabby Coco, whose name actually changes depending on just which home the rather trampy cat decides to reside, only adds to the fun. Delicious descriptions and recipes enhance this smartly-written debut mystery series. No one should be able to resist the taste of an Applewood Bacon Truffle.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Rebel Without a Cake by Jacklyn Brady
Review by Sandra Murphy

Rita Lucero and her former mother-in-law, Miss Frankie, are gearing up for Halloween. Miss Frankie is a forward thinker and is planning Christmas as well. Rita plays a large role in those plans, at least in Miss Frankie’s mind. Rita has plans to visit her own family for the holidays. They’re making big plans too—even buying Rita’s plane ticket for her—without asking first. No matter what she decides, it looks like someone is going to be disappointed.

Miss Frankie doesn’t limit her interference to Christmas plans. As the not-so-silent partner, she’s volunteered Rita and her cake makers to cater a prestigious party that could put Zydeco Cakes on the culinary map. That whole plan is derailed by small mutinies in the kitchen, a pregnant drama queen receptionist, and Miss Frankie’s BFF, Bernice, who shows up at the door carrying a Bible and a gun. She swears she’s just seen the ghost of her uncle peeping in her window. Nothing will do but Rita drive Bernice and Miss Frankie to the bayou to check things out. book

On arrival, they find Bernice’s cousin has been missing all night. Was the ghost an omen to warn them of his danger?

There’s nothing like trying to plan a huge event, get ready for Halloween sales, worry about the receptionist’s love life and baby and deal with old time feuds and quarrels at the same time. When a body is found, Bernice’s cousin is the main suspect. She’s sure he’s innocent and between the two of them, Bernice and Miss Frankie convince Rita to investigate the murder.

This being New Orleans, there has to be a little voodoo involved, much to Rita’s dismay. Couldn’t things just run smoothly for a couple of months, just to get through the holidays?

Apparently not.

The murdered man was universally disliked so suspects abound. Most people think Bernice’s cousin did it though and stop by on a regular basis to thank him.

There are subplots too—like why did Miss Frankie push Rita into the catering job? Will the bakery’s staff revolt and leave? Can the client be trusted? Rita’s got her hands full that’s for sure.

The relationship between Bernice and Miss Frankie is one of old friends, between Miss Frankie and Rita, one of family. The whole story is based on relationships, good and bad. This is the first of the series I’ve read. I look forward to going back to the beginning and reading the first four books. I have a feeling Rita’s come a long way. Besides, who doesn’t love reading about cake?

Recipes include Cajun Boudin Sausage, Pea-Pickin’ Cake, Homemade Banana Pudding, Alligator in Garlic Wine Sauce, Roasted Parmesan Sweet Potatoes and Candy Corn Cupcakes.

The Wedding Soup Murder by Rosie Genova
Review by Sandra Murphy

Victoria Rienzi came back to the Jersey Shore to write a new book. While she’s there, she’s also working in the family restaurant. It’s nothing glamorous—prep work and setting tables—but she’s with family and her ex-boyfriend Tim. There’s still a spark there for both of them but she’s declared the romance dead. To her disappointment, Tim seems to go along with that.

Cal, a woodworker hired by the Casa Lido, has shown interest in Vic but not so much lately. Going from two good looking men to none is a downer for sure—much like making 1,000 tiny meatballs for the wedding soup. It’s not like that’s all Vic gets to do—the escarole needs chopping as well. As a bonus, Vic gets to ice and decorate the wedding cookies, if she can maintain Nonna’s exacting standards. book

Casa Lido is not a caterer but this is a favor for Dr. Chickie, the family dentist. His daughter, the obnoxious Roberta, is the bridezilla and Dr. Chickie has pulled out all the stops. Tempers flare as too many chefs threaten to spoil the reception. The country club’s chef doesn’t appreciate a soup course from another chef. The pastry chef sees no possible use for cookies when compared to the desserts she’s created. Elizabeth Merriman, the driving force of the club, settles all the disputes with threats to fire or evict any who dare argue.

Elizabeth is also heard to threaten Dr. Chickie. It seems his membership in the prestigious club ends when the reception does and in a court of law, no less. The only person Elizabeth gets along with is the mysterious Toscano. It’s assumed he’s a boy toy but he really doesn’t seem the type. He manages the club, at Elizabeth’s insistence.

Dr. Chickie faces indictment, Toscano receives expensive gifts, Chef Kate’s job is threatened, so it’s no wonder Elizabeth’s body is found on the beach. The question is, did she jump, fall or get pushed off the high stairs?

Once the police decide it’s murder, things look worse for Dr. Chickie. A longtime friend of the family, his wife asks Vic to look into what happened. Not only does Vic write mysteries but she helped solve a real live murder several months ago. Now Vic and her sister-in-law, Sofia, must determine if the murder stemmed from a sixty year old secret, a twenty year old problem from when Elizabeth inherited her husband’s company or from current events?

At least four suspects were on hand that night but there might have been more. Who would Elizabeth trust enough to walk with at midnight?

As always, the subplots are as interesting as the murder. Sofia has a secret but won’t tell, not even Vic. Cal, who was a suspect for a brief time in the last murder, seems to have no past but does have money in spite of losing his woodworking business during Hurricane Katrina. Vic’s dad gambles but says it’s just for fun—will he be able to reform? Nonna, she who rules the restaurant with a wooden spoon, knows Elizabeth’s secret from sixty years ago.

The characters continue to grow. The friendship between Vic and Sofia is spot on. Interfering but loving family, again, right on the money. Details of behind-the-scenes at the restaurant are doled out sparingly, not an information dump. It makes for a great read.

Thankfully, the recipe for Nonna’s Italian Wedding Soup is in the back of the book although you don’t have to make 1,000 tiny meatballs like Vic did. Also included are Rosie’s Beef Ragu and the famous Ricotta Cookies that are served at all Italian weddings, at least those in Vic’s world.

The first book in the series, Murder and Marinara, was reviewed for KRL. If you can stand the suspense, read the excerpt of A Dish Best Served Cold. It won’t be released until the fall of 2015.

To enter to win a copy of all 3 mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “September Food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 27, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section. And if you are also a lover of food, check out KRL’s monthly food column How I Met My Dinner and get some great recipes!

Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her new one Bananas Foster.


  1. I feel like I’m gaining weight just reading the reviews–but they’re worth it!

  2. I would love to win all three books! Thanks!

  3. I would love to win the books, I’m sure they will make my diet challenging 🙂

  4. Wow! these all sound like great reads! Thanks for chance to win them!

  5. I love cozies! Thank you for the chance 🙂

  6. The first one sounds the best. There’s a character with my name, Michelle, and also a cat on the cover. I love cats! And it looks like it’s set in a bookstore.

  7. Sounds like three great books!

  8. What a great giveaway

  9. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher

  10. Who was the lucky winner?


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