by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Here is our first group of October Penguins and Kensington mysteries-A Beeline to Murder: A Henny Penny Farmette Mystey by Meera Lester, Floral Depravity: A Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery by Beverly Allen, The Big Chili: An Undercover Dish Mystery by Julia Buckley, A Gala Event by Sheila Connolly, and Pane and Suffering by Cheryl Hollon. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win copies of all 5 books and a link to purchase them.
A Beeline to Murder: A Henny Penny Farmette Mystey By Meera Lester
Review by Cynthia Chow
Ever since an on-the-job injury forced Abigail Mackenzie to leave the Las Flores Police Department, her detective activities have been limited to tracking down her beloved honeybee colonies when they swarm out from their hives to form new colonies. That all ends when Abby’s regular delivery of honey to the Las Flores Patisserie results in the discovery of the body of its chef, Jean-Louis Bonheur.
Although the police quickly declare the death to be a suicide by hanging, the chef’s brother vehemently disagrees. Philippe Bonheur hires Abby to help him prove that Jean-Louis was murdered, and it’s not long before they learn of the number of Las Flores locals with a record of confrontations with the temperamental and quick-to-anger pastry chef.
This debut in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series charms with honey recipes and lore of honeybee farming and honeybees. Honey and honey farming don’t influence the mystery plot, but they do explain and expand on Abby’s personality. Nothing pleases Abby more than seeing her honeybee colonies prosper, and for her that is the true reward for all of the arduous work and very early mornings it demands.
Abby’s very ordered life is disrupted by her generous fostering of Jean-Louis’s extremely energetic overgrown puppy Sugar, as well as the flirtatious attentions of the very French Philippe. A past heartbreak may have Abby skittish about relationships, but Philippe’s overt attentions, as well as the much more comfortable friendship of a handsome widower, will force her out of her safe and predictable life. The Las Flores setting in the Northern California Bay Area is beautiful with its community of farms and wineries, all contrasted by a nearby prison and shadier element. Abby’s police training, combined with her fascinating love for honeybee farming, ensure that mystery readers will be delighted by this blend of smart investigating, hints of romance, and intrigue of small-town life and politics.
Floral Depravity: A Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery By Beverly Allen
Review by Cynthia Chow
Audrey Bloom prides herself in making perfect bouquets for brides with flowers that match their personalities and most heart-felt wishes. This is proving to be a challenge with her latest client, as not only must Audrey’s creations meet the continually evolving demands of the bride, they must also be historically accurate to the Middle Ages requirements of her historian mother. Andrea Randolph’s wedding is taking place in the Guardians of Chivalry Encampment, where its residents fastidiously maintain a standard of accuracy that has them looking down upon Renaissance Faires with distain. Audrey’s embarrassingly authentic dress—one that designates her as a tavern wench offering more services than she is willing to provide—takes a backseat to far more shocking incidents that top off the wedding. Not only is Audrey’s long-absent father officiating the ceremony as a friar, but the groom’s own father drops dead minutes after swallowing a cup of venison stew.
That the stew was prepared by Audrey’s sort-of-boyfriend Nick Maxwell would have been reason enough for her to take an interest in the death; but when a politically minded sheriff deputizes her it ensures her involvement. Ramble’s chief of police, Kane Bixby, would prefer that Audrey remain focused on her Rose in Bloom flower shop, but even he has to admit that she will be much more successful infiltrating the encampment full of those resentful of the late Barry Brooks. Two ex-wives, angry employees, mistresses, angry employee mistresses… The list just seems to be growing.
The woman who loves finding meaning in her plants and flowers never becomes too overwhelmed by the shenanigans of her suspects or committed historians. What is becoming a concern is Audrey’s fear of commitment, one that has her casually dating Nick while flirt-texting her ex, Brad Simmons. Their long-distance friendship will be much more difficult to manage now that Brad is in town to film a reality show based on the encampment, but the real challenge will be facing the man who is ultimately responsible for Audrey’s commitment issues.
The author excels at sprinkling moments of laugh-out-loud humor amid scenes that involve complex, relatable human drama. Let’s just say that few readers will be releasing doves at their next wedding! The dialogue is fast and witty, with characters each having their time to shine and develop realistically. Few cozies achieve this balance of humor and emotional turmoil without going over the top in either direction, and here Allen thrives in keeping the tone fun and lively. An unexpected conclusion will charm readers on all fronts, ensuring the appeal of this funny and rewarding series.
The Big Chili: An Undercover Dish Mystery By Julia Buckley
Review by Cynthia Chow
Lilah Drake would love nothing more than to own a catering business where she could prepare delectable foods for selected clients. Until the twenty-seven year old manages to find the funds, though, Lilah works by day in her parents’ Pine Haven, Illinois real-estate company, while also preparing covered-dish meals for her friends. Those in the know pay for Lilah’s discretion, and she utilizes James Bond-esque maneuvers to maintain the secrecy that allows her clients to pretend that they are the actual chefs. This deception proves far more complicated than anyone could have predicted when a crock-pot of chili Lilah prepared for bingo night at the behest of Perpetua “Pet” Grandy ends with the death of the president of the St. Bart’s Altar and Rosary Guild.
Pet’s prideful need to be lauded as the scion of the church, renowned for preparing the much-loved chili, forces a reluctant Lilah to continue to hide the fact that she was the true chef. This will definitely prove to be tricky when faced with handsome Detective Inspector Jacob “Jay” Parker, a sharp investigator who values honesty above all else. While Lilah never had an opportunity to poison the weaponized batch of chili and is never a suspect, her conscience continues to plague her for lying to Jay, especially considering that his mother also happens to be one of Lilah’s most valuable clients.
The need to help Pet has Lilah discovering that the deceased was far from beloved within the community. An ex-husband, his surprisingly intelligent veterinarian trophy girlfriend, and their acrimonious battle over a barking dog have police investigating in a certain direction… just possibly not the correct one. A threat following her landlord’s intriguing Halloween party has Lilah on lockdown, forcing her to wonder if she is the one hot on the trail of a murderer.
This is a joyfully fun mystery that celebrates good food, eccentric small town characters, and relatives who lovingly drive one another crazy. Lilah’s small family truly is the standout of this novel, as her parents and brother get along so well by being close and supportive without becoming too cloying. Lilah’s mother worries that her daughter may be isolating herself after being burned by a past relationship, but this concern is never overbearing. Lilah herself lives with a continual soundtrack in her head, the songs reflecting her current mood or subconscious. Romance looms on the horizon with the flirtatious Jay, but Lilah’s secretive career may be the one barrier in their way. This is a delightfully charming new series that combines all of the best elements of cozy mysteries and ensures to have readers hungry for more.
A Gala Event By Sheila Connolly
Review by Sandra Murphy
Meg and Seth are getting married but it’s a low key event. No bridezilla here! There are just a few things to clear up so they can enjoy the day—rehab jobs for Seth and a remodel of two bathrooms, Meg’s mom and dad coming to visit, returning an alpaca to the neighbor’s farm, the rest of the apple harvest and oh yeah, a cold case murder.
When a stranger shows up at the historical society, after hours and acting weird, Gail the curator, is justifiably afraid. As he moves closer, she tries to protect herself but has a sharp antique in hand and cuts the man. When he’s found, he’s in pretty bad shape from blood loss.
He’s Aaron Eastman, an ex-con, recently released. Twenty-five years ago, he was convicted of setting the fire that burned his family’s home, killing his mother, father, and grandmother. Aaron was found on the lawn, disoriented and unable to remember what happened.
In prison, he’s tried everything to remember but only one thing stands out. In the days before the fire, his grandmother was behaving strangely. She had purged the family papers and donated them to the historical society but then came up with three more boxes. Unlike the others, these boxes were sealed. Aaron thinks the boxes might hold a clue as to who set the fire—unless he did it all along.
As the wedding gets closer and details need to be finalized, Meg finds herself drawn into Aaron’s life. She’s convinced there’s more to the story than anyone knows. Meg’s able to pull it all together with more patience and minimal stress than could be expected before a wedding.
Meg and Seth make a great couple. Each gives the other space while being supportive and they have common interests as well. Each mystery lets readers get to know the couple better. It’s an enjoyable journey.
Because Meg ended up feeding Aaron, his brother and sister and assorted friends and family, she kindly included some of the recipes for quick meals at the back of the book. Look for spicy fish, toffee crunch blondies, and apple cider cake, recommended to serve with maple icing or caramel drizzle.
Connolly also writes the Museum mysteries (6) and the County Cork series (3), both reviewed for KRL.
Pane and Suffering By Cheryl Hollon
Review by Sandra Murphy
Savannah has inherited Webb’s Glass Shop from her father. She loves glass and all its colors, first with stained glass, the last few years as a glass blower. It’s hard to imagine that her dad’s gone. He had classes booked and paid for, so she’ll stay on to teach at least the first series with the help of Hugo, the second-in-command and master glass worker. Then she’ll sell the shop to him and return to her own life. At least, that’s the plan.
When Hugo is found dead in the shop (of a heart attack like her dad), things sound hinky, to say the least. Really? Two heart attacks within a week of each other? Savannah is sure there’s more to the story and soon finds a clue her father left.
The clue flat-out says: if you’ve found this, I’ve been murdered, and you’re in danger. It also gives a hint as to where to find more information, all in code. Both her father and Hugo were code-breakers during the Cold War, so is it something from the far past or a more current event that could have gotten them killed? The police officer who comes to take the report is so inept that Savannah is sure the only way the mystery will be solved is to do it herself—with the help of a couple of her students, Amanda and Jacob. Both are very skilled glassworkers. Jacob is autistic and his work is near perfection. His service dog, Susie the Beagle, goes everywhere with him. Amanda is, well, kinda flakey, but good-hearted and a solid friend.
Luckily, there is a detective in charge of the case who believes something’s up. He still has to deal with his inept officer, but at least he’s on the case.
Savannah has a lot to deal with. She’s supposed to be prepping for a gallery show with her ex-boyfriend back home. She’s inherited her dad’s Weimaraner, Rooney, who doesn’t seem to like her (he misses her dad, too). There’s also the complication of the charming and good-looking Edward, who shows up with coffee and scones every morning, a ritual he started with her father. It’s his business, so it was a way to test new flavors.
Then there are the two men who are determined to buy the shop—Frank (so he can steal the customers and close it down) and Smythe (so a big box store can take its place). Both are determined to get their way. Would that include murder?
The shop has the contract for a huge job—making duplicate stained glass windows for the Catholic Church. Father Kline is her contact there. He was a friend of her father’s as well, and is very insistent that she not grieve alone.
This is the first in a new series. Information about working with glass is spread throughout the tale without ever distracting from the mystery at hand. Webb’s Glass Shop is certainly a place where you’d want to hang out and learn to work with glass (not to mention visit Edward at his place of business). I look forward to the next installment of the story.
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 “October,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 24, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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