by Cynthia Chow & Sandra Murphy
This week we are once again playing catchup with a fun group of cozy mysteries-A Colorful Scheme: A Pen & Ink Mystery by Krista Davis, Death on the Argyle: A Black Sheep & Co. Mystery by Anne Canadeo, Gone for Gouda: A Cheese Shop Mystery by Korina Moss, A Dish to Die For: A Key West Food Mystery by Lucy Burdette, and Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder: A Baker Street Mystery by Valerie Burns. 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 Colorful Scheme: A Pen & Ink Mystery by Krista Davis
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jacqueline Liebhaber and John Maxwell are getting married—again. After many years apart, they’ve found their way back to true love. Now if someone can just find the bride, the ceremony can go on.
John owns the local bookstore, Color Me Read, run by Florrie who is also a coloring book designer. Her sister is the wedding planner and swears she’ll never do it again. Missing bride, hysterical butler, worried groom, nasty sister-in-law to-be, an ex-boyfriend of sorts, and a rogue reporter-wannabe running loose, it’s all too much to ask.
Meanwhile, Florrie’s being stalked, but it’s hard to catch a good look at whoever’s following her. Wedding guests include Arthur, former lover of the bride, a literary author who did write a good book but not lately, Evan, Arthur’s assistant and wannabe writer, Sloan a literary agent who is trying to avoid Evan, Margarite, a book reviewer with a sharp wit and sharper tongue, Gabriella, a romance writer, Griffin, her husband, a thriller author, Buzz, a thriller writer with FBI experience but who is boring in person, and Cara the wannabe reporter working without an assignment but with a vivid imagination. What could possibly go wrong?
The wedding does go smoothly if you don’t mind a little pig wearing a diamond collar, walking down the aisle after the bride, and sitting near the couple as they recite their vows. The so-called reporter had to be escorted from the grounds, then the literary author semi-threatened the reviewer, and all in all, it’s a good thing police officers were on the guest list.
Of course, nothing beat the fact that Evan was found the next morning, in the pool, drowned. Some guests (sister Liddy and her bejeweled pig, for instance) were staying at the house. What with the writers who make up stories for a living, those who have secrets, and the outright liars, it was going to be hard to get to the truth. Even Florrie comes under suspicion, even though she’d only just met Evan.
At the back of the book find recipes for strawberry cupcakes and frosting, peach breakfast puffs, roasted asparagus, blueberry coffee cake with crumble, and one essential to get through the wedding, a lemon drop martini.
This is book four. Davis also writes the Domestic Diva mysteries (5). The characters are enjoyable, the humor spot on, and the mystery is a good one with twists, turns, and red herrings that are not on the menu. A truly enjoyable series. (Has anybody seen the bride?)
Death on the Argyle: A Black Sheep & Co. Mystery by Anne Canadeo
Review by Sandra Murphy
In Plum Harbor, Massachusetts, one of the Black Sheep Knitters is eight-months pregnant. She’s trying to knit a onesie for the baby with an argyle band inset. It’s not going well. Maggie sails through her projects, no matter how difficult, but then you’d expect that since she owns the Black Sheep Company & Knitting Shop. Each Thursday, the group of friends meet for snacks, chat, and stitches.
Lucy’s old friend Rebecca is back in town with her husband Colin and stepdaughter Sophie. Rebecca owns The Happy Hands Café where customers meet, craft, and eat the delicious food her cook Nick makes. One evening Colin makes a scene, arguing loudly with Rebecca in the kitchen, then storming to his favorite table and forcing its occupants to move so he could write his best-seller in the making.
When his body is found in the café early the next morning, suspicion falls on Rebecca. The knitters have been useful in finding clues before, and Lucy is determined to help her friend. Since she’s got all the knitters and her husband watching her closely, lest she give birth somewhere other than the hospital, her freedom to investigate is limited.
It appears Colin had a life Rebecca knew nothing about. He was a master liar. Each of his lies adds further to a possible motive for Rebecca. Will Lucy be able to find out who killed her friend’s lying, cheating, devious husband before her own baby makes an appearance?
This is book five in the series. I like the way the women take turns being the main character. Their friendship shows in many ways. Phoebe is the youngest, single still but in a relationship. Maggie has a grown daughter, Suzanne a college age kid and twins in high school. It’s a nice mix of ages and perspectives. Although I did unravel several of the clues, I didn’t know who the killer was until about three sentences before Lucy figured it out.
At the back of the book find links to patterns for a lady’s argyle pullover and a modern pullover with an argyle band. There’s also a recipe for baked mac and cheese, Lucy’s pregnancy craving food.
Gone for Gouda: A Cheese Shop Mystery by Korina Moss
Review by Sandra Murphy
Curds and Whey is the newest shop in Yarrow Glen. Cheese is the meaning of life for owner Willa Bauer. Business is picking up, her employees are the best ever, and there’s a spark of romance in her life. If only she can stop finding dead bodies, everything would be just about perfect.
For the moment, her life is taken up with preparations for the arrival of vegan influencer, Phoebe Winston. She is high maintenance plus. Although Willa received six recipes for Phoebe’s demo and bought the ingredients, Phoebe announces those were just suggestions. She’ll send over the final list—and the event is tomorrow. She’s also unhappy with the seating arrangements and how her fans will be unable to see every move she makes. In other words, scrap all the prep and start over at added expense and time involved. The tickets have been sold, so Willa complies. Phoebe also manages to abscond with Willa’s employee, Archie.
The next day, final preparations are underway when a crowd of women approach the register. Willa assumes they are after last minute tickets but is floored to find out, they all want refunds. It seems, Phoebe’s photos are front page news—she’s eating Mac’s Big Mouth BBQ!
When Phoebe is found dead in her bathtub, the police have a list of suspects to choose from. Phoebe treated everyone badly but in the end, Archie was the last to see her alive, as documented by the security camera at the gate. Willa can’t let Archie be arrested, so she investigates a bit on her own.
With ticket money to refund, chairs to send back, boxes of Phoebe’s cookbooks to deal with, vandalism through the town, a spark of interest besides her maybe-boyfriend, and defending Archie, Willa’s popping cheese like valium to calm her nerves.
This is the second book in the series. Cheddar Off Dead was reviewed here. I enjoyed both books and look forward to more. Be prepared, have cheese on hand while you read.
Recipes include: Bavarian beer cheese (obatzda, a spreadable cheese dip), cheesy apple pockets made with puff pastry, and jalapeño popper grilled cheese (vegetarian which can also be made vegan) plus description of cheeses throughout the book.
A Dish to Die For: A Key West Food Mystery by Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
The businesses that didn’t go out of business completely on island of Key West, Florida, are struggling to recover after the pandemic, and Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow can’t help but feel trapped in the doldrums. She and her husband are more than happy to escape for the day with their friend to the northern key island’s Boca Chica Beach. What she’s unable to escape from is her habit of encountering dead bodies although this time it’s her husband’s miniature pinscher Ziggy Stardust who literally digs up a corpse.
Businessman Gerald “GG” Garcia had a well-earned reputation for supporting environmentally-unfriendly, tourist-attracting measures along with advocating for anything guaranteed to irritate long-term residents. With her husband, Key West Police Detective Nathan Bransford, already at a high stress level due to the impending visit by his estranged father, Hayley has no intention of further aggravating her spouse by interfering in the investigation. It’s rather surprising that the investigators actually encourage Hayley to do a little undercover work at a local dog park where GG was notorious for allowing his dog to bully and antagonize other pets. Angry dog owners are on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to those with motives to eliminate GG, as he was disliked by competing bird watchers, notorious for preying on young women, and was planning on developing lands that would have displaced the poor through eminent domain.
It is through her fondness for cuisine that Hayley stumbles onto another possible connection to the victim, this time a 1949 Key West Woman’s Club cookbook donated to the Friends of the Library. The hand-written cookbook contains not just problematic recipes for (endangered) turtle soup and casseroles, but references to the Garcia family. Hayley and her caterer mother Janet are going to have an opportunity to showcase some of those recipes not just for the less-than-mournful guests of GG’s funeral, but for a visit by Nathan’s intimidating father.
Contrary to their belief that he had retired from the Georgia Police Department, Chester “Skip” Bransford has come to Key West to help their police department train for their upcoming accreditation. Their relationship was already strained from the crime that broke up their family, so with his father overseeing his work, Nathan isn’t exactly ready to welcome him back with open arms. Hayley’s need to take care of everyone has her catering to Skip’s rather unadventurous and rigid tastes as she prepares family meals and helps to feed their souls. An awkward birder who is attacked after seeking Hayley’s help further pushes her into police affairs, and despite Nathan’s protectiveness, it looks as though she may be the best one to bring about justice.
This twelfth in the series rewards loyal fans by bringing back favorite characters and delivering satisfying and deserved endings. Nathan and Hayley have built up a respectful and very adult marriage, one that depends on communication and actually keeping the other informed of possibly dangerous situations. Readers will enjoy the times she is able to review Stock Island’s unique restaurants and prepare the meals she cooks for her friends and family. The Homemade Pigs in a Blanket recipe will ignite nostalgia along with taste buds, as will those for layered finger sandwiches. There is a thoughtful tone throughout the novel as Hayley and her senior friend Miss Gloria find themselves in the midst of others’ complicated, troubled, and even abusive relationships. Through it all readers are able to revel in the enviable setting, abundance of adorable pets, and engaging characters.
Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder: A Baker Street Mystery by Valerie Burns
Review by Cynthia Chow
Being left at the altar was humiliating enough, but having it live-streamed over social media had Maddy Montgomery more than ready for an excuse to get out of town. So she jumps on the first flight to New Bison, Michigan, after receiving a letter informing her that she is the main heir of her late Great-Aunt Octavia. Even though Maddy barely knew Octavia, she has left Maddy a house, bakery, and a 200-pound English Mastiff named Baby. The catch, other than the unexpected gift of a horse-sized pooch, is that Maddy must live in the home and run the bakery for at least one year. Considering that Maddy is more deft at posting hashtagged selfies than she is turning on a stove, it’s almost enough to have Maddy turning tail and running home to her father, the Admiral.
Being raised by a single father as a Navy brat, Maddy grew up trained in Morse code and self-defense, but also mainly to become a suitable military wife. She’s now determined to prove herself capable of taking on a new business and establishing her independence, despite the influx of visitors all interested in buying her out. Through a videotape recording Octavia left for her grandniece (and after the attorney explains to Maddy just what a VCR tape is), Maddy is warned that something is wrong in the town of New Bison, and that not everyone can be trusted. It’s an assertion backed up by the bakery’s somewhat addled baker Hannah, who further declares that Octavia had been murdered.
As Maddy settles in and meets the eclectic staff and the rest of New Bison town, she is reassured that Octavia’s paranoia was due to her love of classic mysteries and regular meetings of their bookclub the Baker Street Irregulars. After the mayor is murdered by the bakery’s expensive knife following his pushy attempt to buy out Maddy, she is unable to ignore the shadow looming over the Lake Michigan town. So when she’s not learning to cook and hashtagging the disastrous results, Maddy attempts to discover who was willing to give Octavia a fatal push to keep secrets hidden.
In this debut series readers are introduced to the world of Instagram hashtags and social media promotions. Maddy could easily have turned into a one-dimensional cliché of an influencer, one who constantly takes selfies and is obsessed with her social media following. Instead, Maddy is a compelling, very relatable character struggling to forge her own independence and identity. As rivaling suitors appear, it will be the one who sees her as more than just a brainless, pretty face who wins out, especially when she comes accompanied by a very protective massive pooch.
Foodies will wince at Maddy’s attempts to scramble an egg, but cheer when she is able to bake one of Octavia’s award-winning Chocolate Soul Cakes. Recipes (but not for that special cake, unfortunately) are included at the end, but the focus is on Maddy’s inspirations to build and expand the bakery. The author of the RJ Franklin and Dog Club mystery series again crafts a humorous mystery with characters supported by the strong bonds of the community and chosen family. The few questions that remain at the end of this very satisfying, engaging mystery will have readers eagerly awaiting the next appearance by a more confident Maddy and somewhat slobbery companion Baby.
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 “oct catchup” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 22, 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.
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