by Cynthia Chow & Sandra Murphy
This week we are once again playing catchup with a fun group of cozy mysteries that involve food, bookstores, and games-A Poisonous Page: A Sweet Fiction Bookshop Mystery by Kitt Crowe, Mint Chocolate Murder: An Ice Cream Shop Mystery by Meri Allen, Murder at the Blueberry Festival: A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery by Darci Hannah, In Too Steep: A Misty Bay Tea Room Mystery by Kate Kingsbury, and Peg and Rose Solve a Murder: A Peg and Rose Mystery by Laurien Berenson. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 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 Poisonous Page: A Sweet Fiction Bookshop Mystery by Kitt Crowe
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s only been two months since Sweet Fiction Bookshop owner Lexi Jones helped police solve a murder, and well, she’s already a little bored. Not with her increasingly prosperous bookshop nor with her tourist-attracting town of Confection, Oregon, as their inclination to celebrate everything has them in the midst of an End of Summer Celebration blowout. No, Lexi and her Macaroons Mystery Club are anxious for the next opportunity to investigate a real-life murder mystery on their own.
While ostensibly they are a bookclub reading (or at least watching the movie versions of the books) fictional mysteries like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, most of their members would prefer to become a Macaroons Murder Club solving crimes and tracking down murders. It looks as though they have an opportunity when irritating Detective Chad Berg receives a 10-54 “possible dead body” call, and it turns out that the body of Confection Chamber of Commerce chair Marilyn Freeman has just been found dead by her housekeeper.
While nothing obvious indicates that the young woman passed away from anything other than natural causes, the Macaroons are more than ready to begin operating on the premise that she did. Marilyn had a well-earned reputation for going after men regardless of their commit status or availability, meaning that there was a dearth of candidates with motives for wanting her dead. When another definitive case of murder follows and implicates Lexi’s best friend’s brother Dash Hagen, nothing is going to stop her or her murder-mystery-fan bookclub from going full-throttle on an investigation.
This second in the series ramps up the humor level with banter-filled dialogue and quippy characters. While Lexi has a big-brotherish-frenemy relationship with Dash, she has much more sizzling-yet-antagonistic exchanges with smoking hot Chad Berg. It definitely confuses matters when the detective has abs of steel to go along with his reprimands to stay out of his investigation, which explains why the fictional book Lexi’s writing features a protagonist who is basically a mash-up of the two men.
When not attempting to wrangle her renegade lawn-pooping pooch Cookie (who can only do her business while “free” and off-leash), Lexi and her eight other Macaroons make visits to the jail, break into Marilyn’s home, and do a little casual interrogation of their friends and neighbors. The actual investigation progresses entertainingly as they find a surfeit of jilted men, resentful women, and an adorable litter of kittens. The Macaroons are an expansive collection of quirky friends and neighbors, and while some get more of a focus than others all have a moment to shine. It’s more of a when-will-they than will-they-or-won’t-they situation with Lexi and Detective Berg, but their progress is made charmingly and at a realistic pace. The romantic tension matches the level of suspense as these very likable characters race to solve a few murders and not become the next victims in the process.
Mint Chocolate Murder: An Ice Cream Shop Mystery by Meri Allen
Review by Cynthia Chow
Although she has only committed to managing her friend’s New England Udderly Delicious Ice Cream shop through their busiest season, former librarian for the CIA (surprisingly not the one that is the Culinary Institute of America), Riley Rhodes, is finding it to be a surprisingly enjoyable fit. Not only does it allow her to live closer to her father in their hometown of Penniman, Connecticut, her skills as a librarian – and occasional agent – have proven to be quite useful in solving a recent murder. Now though, she is excited to be meeting with reclusive celebrity Maud Monaco who wants to hire Udderly Delicious to create specialty flavors for her artist colony’s summer art festival. The first Black Cover magazine model is accustomed to having her demands met, but at least she makes them graciously and mostly through her assistant Prentiss Love.
An end of the festival dinner party for the board of the Moy Mill Art Foundation requires Riley to create a Scottish-themed ice cream treat, but more challenging will be dealing with some of its artistic members. Adam Blasco is known for his avant-garde, cutting edge and unsettling photography, so it’s perplexing that the famous photographer Adam Blasco has been hired for Maud’s upcoming cookbook. More alarming for Riley is seeing Adam’s predatory behavior on his subjects, especially when he focuses on making a local young art student his muse.
When Adam goes missing during the board dinner at Moy Mill castle, everyone is more irritated than concerned. At least that’s until Riley finds Adam’s body in the actual dungeon, apparently due to a fatal bee sting and anaphylactic reaction. Evidence seems to indicate that the allergic reaction and his lack of EpiPen was a case of intentional murder, and the involvement of Udderly Delicious staff means that Riley’s research and agent instincts kick in. There’s a lot to investigate in this sleepy New England town as missing photographs, a legendary ghost, and secret passageways build towards a complex gothic mystery.
This second in the series is more pumpkin spice than mint chocolate, especially since
the former is the sought-after flavor with a no-churn recipe included at the end. Riley leaves the daily operations of the ice cream shop in the hands of her reliable staff as she delves into the mysteries of an actual Scottish castle and its artistic inhabitants. Adam’s manipulation of his vulnerable models and assistants is an uncomfortable but very timely topic, especially when it seems that his behavior has usually been given a pass due to his talent. Riley herself doesn’t hesitate to confront him while protecting his targets, the latest who just happens to be the daughter of neighboring farmers and the girlfriend of a devoted young beekeeper. Riley’s dry wit and sharp intelligence allows for fun dialogue and the observation that a gold and green retro-decorated dungeon gives off the vibe of “Ye Olde Rec Room.” An attractive historian, Weeping Lady ghost, gossipy police secretary, and a plethora of models and artists make up a colorful cast of suspects and investigators. Add in a rescue cat and a demanding Persian and you have all of the mixings for an enjoyable, very complicated and tasty mystery.
Murder at the Blueberry Festival: A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery by Darci Hannah
Review by Cynthia Chow
Maybe it was her name or that she used to work with “dough,” but former Wall Street investment banker Lindsey Bakewell has found herself perfectly settling in as the owner of the Beacon Bakeshop in Beacon Harbor, Michigan. The Lake Michigan town is gearing up for its biggest and oldest festival, August’s Beacon Harbor Blueberry Festival, and as one of the committee members, Lindsey is prepping the entries for the pie-eating contest.
Although taste may not be the priority in the race to down as many pies in as short a time as possible, Lindsey will also be busy serving the influx of tourists from both her bakery and her new pup café. Her life has gotten even more rewarding now that her parents have moved to Beacon Harbor, with her father helping her out in the bakery while her former model mother now runs the flagship branch of her clothing store in town. The festival has barely started when a series of pranks start to plague the town, and although they start off as childish and annoying, they quickly become progressively destructive. It comes to an alarming head when not only is a goat stranded on a boat in the middle of the lake, but with an accompanying Viking-attired corpse that seems to make it an attempt at a Viking funeral.
Despite Lars Jorgenson having appeared hale and hearty the night before, local police are reluctant to call the death as something other than natural. So despite having a bakery to open, a pie-contest to organize, and stopping a prankster from further shenanigans, Lindsey takes it upon herself to determine Lars’s nearly-epic demise. She has assistance from her super-hot neighbor Rory Campbell, a former Navy SEAL whose manuscript of a military suspense thriller barely disguises itself as a terrifying memoir. So as much as Lindsey relies on Rory’s intelligence and knowledge of Viking practices, she also wants to help him adjust to a non-combative, normal lifestyle. Lindsey is definitely having a busy fall with her 150-pound giant Newfoundland, pranks that infuriate not only her neighbors but her own mother, and a possible murderer on the loose.
This latest in the Beacon Bakeshop Mystery series will have readers eager for the fall season and its many delicacies. It’s in the title, so one naturally expects – and anticipates – recipes and detailed descriptions of Lindsey creating sugary blueberry buckles, crumb cakes, and of course, pies. While new readers can easily jump into this third entry, loyalists will be rewarded by appearances by Lindsey’s exuberant Influencer best friend Kennedy, who makes the most of her partnership in the clothing store by giving a trend-setting makeover to a goat. While the antics of Lindsey and her supportive friends are undeniably delightful, the novel takes a more somber tone as it delves not only into Rory’s PTSD but the tragic motivations behind the crimes. Excellent writing, adorable pets, and elaborate descriptions of baking make this a very entertaining escape to close out the summer.
In Too Steep: A Misty Bay Tea Room Mystery by Kate Kingsbury
Review by Sandra Murphy
Vivian owns an English tearoom in Misty Bay, which being in Oregon is nowhere near England. However, her mother’s recipes are authentic and popular.
Lewis Trenton lived in a shack at the beach where he could be seen hunting for treasures like items left by tourists or pretty shells to resell. He was found shot with a shotgun beside his body. It appears nothing was stolen and indeed, how do you steal from someone who has nothing? Vivian thinks it’s incredibly sad the old man died alone with no one to mourn him. However, there was the old Big Ben clock, a replica of the real things, sold in her shop as a souvenir. There were three to start and Vivian is afraid there will always be two. After all, they weren’t very well made. Somehow Lewis had the third, just a week after it was sold.
She decides the clock must have been a gift from someone who cared for him. She’s determined to find out who and to return the clock to them as a memento—and to make sure they’d heard of Lewis’ death. She ends up recruiting her two employees to help. It seems like each step forward is into a blank wall.
In looking over the damaged replica, Vivian finds a shiny stone. Surely, it couldn’t be a real diamond. Who would have something valuable and still live in a shack? It’s real and leads Vivian further down the path to find Lewis’ killer.
This is book two in the series. I really like Vivian and Felix, plus her two human sidekicks. The tea shop is somewhere you’d want to visit and you know they’d take care of you when you did so you left, fed and happy. Vivian has a budding romance with Hal, another business owner. It’s a pleasure to see an older couple in love. With a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, I can’t wait to read book three. Sadly, no recipes included.
A prolific writer, Kingsbury also writes the Merry Ghost Inn series (3), the Manor House mysteries (9), and the Pennyfoot Hotel books (23). Writing as Alison Kingsley, she’s written four Raven’s Nest Bookstore mysteries and, as Rebecca Kent, three Belle Haven House books.
Peg and Rose Solve a Murder: A Peg and Rose Mystery by Laurien Berenson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Peg and Rose are sisters-in-law but not what you could call close. Of course, last year they got together but that was a fluke. When Rose shows up at a dog show Peg is judging, it’s a total surprise. When Rose asks Peg to be her partner to play bridge, Peg is almost speechless, something that never happens. With Melanie, Sam, and the boys in an RV somewhere in the West, Peg uncharacteristically decides, why not?
Most of the players in the bridge club have played together for years. Rose isn’t a daring partner and it’s been a long time since Peg played, so it’s understandable when they consistently lose. Since there are four players to a table and that changes after each game, they get to know a bit about the other players and look forward to the next week. For instance, Peg notices one of the players bets on the game. Two others cheat, easily foiled by Peg on their second visit.
It’s shocking for Rose to hear on the news that one of the players has been killed, shot in his home. Because Peg has been involved in murder investigations before with Melanie as her sidekick, she decides Rose can stand in for Melanie. Rose isn’t so sure but finds she does enjoy the cat and mouse game of questions and answers—and discovering who’s lying.
When they get too close to the truth, definite threats are made by the killer. It only makes Peg more determined to find out just who that is.
This is the second adventure for Peg and Rose although the first book in their new series. Their relationship, rocky from the moment they met years ago, is improving as they learn to work together and emphasize each other’s strengths. In the process of learning more about each other, they’re discovering new things about themselves as well.
This is an enjoyable series. Regular readers of the Melanie Travis mysteries already love Aunt Peg. Now there’s a chance to know Peg away from Melanie and her family. The give and take banter between the Peg and Rose is friendlier this time round.
There are twenty-nine books in the Melanie series with Killer Cupid launching on December 27, 2022. Put it on your holiday list and hope another Peg and Rose book follows close behind.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “sept catchup” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 3, 2022. 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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