by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Penguin continues to release a lot of great cozies for our mystery reading fun! Here are a few more reviews of books that came out in October and September of 2013! This week we have food, clothing, supernatural and Amish country. A Finder’s Fee: A Missing Pieces Mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene, Postcards from the Dead by Laura Childs, Bran New Death by Victoria Hamilton, Going Through the Notions by Cate Price, and Murder, Plain and Simple by Isabella Alan. Details on how to win all 5 of these fun mysteries at the end of this post.
A Finder’s Fee: A Missing Pieces Mystery By Joyce and Jim Lavene
Review by Cynthia Chow
The Duck, North Carolina friends of Dae O’Donnell, are used to their mayor’s eccentricities due to her unique ability to find lost items and “read” their histories through touch. However, her sudden disappearance alarms them all especially when her fellow gifted friends believe that Dae has been possessed by a witch embodied in an amber necklace sent to Dae by her father. Dae’s return and her protestations that all is well doesn’t calm them in the least, and medium Shayla Lily and her grandmother insist that a malicious witch is influencing the behavior that has Dae obsessed with digging up the deceased Maggie Madison in order to give the similarly gifted woman’s remains a proper burial. With the site of Maggie’s former home about to be drilled for a new geothermal system at the prospective new town hall, Dae feels that time is of the essence despite the risk the unauthorized digging places on her imminent re-election and the fines it would incur.
While Dae manages to ease the worries of most of the concerned, including those of her boyfriend Kevin Brickman, neither Shayla’s grandmother nor Kevin’s former FBI partner and psychic, Ann Porter, believe that Dae is acting entirely like herself. They are correct to have concerns as Dae has been hiding a secret; the spirit of the four-hundred-year-dead Maggie is most definitely hanging around inside Dae’s head and making rather inappropriate appearances whenever the opportunity to flirt any available–or unavailable–males are nearby. However, Dae is far more distracted when her excavations discover not Maggie’s bones, but those of Lightning Joe Walsh inside the former racing car of Randal “Mad Dog” Wilson, Lightning’s chief racing rival and the man currently running for mayor against Dae.
When the councilman becomes the chief suspect in the forty year-old murder and is arrested, Laura Wilson comes to Dae pleading with her to prove that her husband is innocent of killing the mysterious man who seemed to have made it his mission in life to make Mad Dog’s life miserable while romancing all of the women in town.
What with a murder investigation and the questionable possession by a spirit keeping Dae occupied, she thought that her campaign efforts would be taking a neglected backseat. However, despite her own lack of efforts someone seems to be spending an enormous amount of funds promoting and advertising Dae’s achievements, including her face painted on a water tower and airplane banners. When the source is revealed, Dae is not sure whether to be grateful or suspicious, as it definitely falls on the dark side of shady and brings the very unwanted attention of federal authorities.
In this fifth in the Missing Pieces Mystery series, Dae’s powers have grown from being able to find lost objects to knowing their histories and even being able to absorb the emotions surrounding them. While this makes touching very old unknown items extremely precarious and dangerous to Dae, it also means that she has to rely on those who are aware of her powers for support in the event that she becomes too overwhelmed by the memories and sensations. As the “special” granddaughter of the town sheriff, Dae finds herself unaccustomed to the attentions of several different men. The enthusiastic responses by the tavern wench, Maggie, who takes the most inopportune time to speak through Dae, only adds to her confusion as she fears the possibility of losing herself. New readers to the series will need to spend some time catching up on the many characters and unfortunately Dae does succumb to the folly of confronting the murderer on her own without backup or notifying the authorizes beforehand. However, the extremely elaborate plot and likable characters all add up to a highly enjoyable magical mystery by this extraordinarily prolific and husband and wife writing team.
Postcards from the Dead By Laura Childs
Review by Sandra Murphy
Those who have read the previous books in the scrapbooking series (nine of them) will remember not-so-ace-reporter Kimber Breeze. She’s the television personality who was forever sticking a microphone in Carmela’s face with the intent to embarrass. This time around, Kimber has a prime spot on the second floor balcony at an old hotel where she’s interviewing the locals and commenting on the parade. Carmela’s next in line for an interview—it’s just good business to advertise her shop and Mardi Gras is the season in New Orleans—when Kimber misses a cue from her cameraman. That’s not her style at all and that causes Carmela to rush onto the balcony, to find it empty.
Kimber wasn’t beamed up. In fact, she was hung down—by the cord from the TV equipment—and she’s quite dead. Of course, with Kimber’s reputation, the list of suspects is long and not to repentant. They include her brother (in need of cash), her boyfriend (not so sad at her death) and everyone she tried to investigate or embarrass on camera.
The detective on the case is once again Babcock, Carmela’s boyfriend who despairs of her involvement in his murder cases. This time, he has reason to worry. She was first on the scene—what if the murderer thinks he was spotted? She’s had success discovering clues before and that adds another level of concern. Cryptic messages on postcards depicting local cemeteries keep showing up at the shop and her home. Babcock is determined that for once, Carmela stick to scrapbooking.
Business in the shop is good but what’s Carmela to do? Raleigh, the cameraman, asks her to help. Shamus, her despicable ex-husband thinks a krewe member is under suspicion and needs help. Carmela is worried about the postcards herself—not to mention the smoke bomb that puts Carmela and her dogs in jeopardy when it’s lobbed through the window of her rental house.
Glory, Shamus’ sister is back and in full weirdness. Ava on the other hand, is wearing more leather, less clothes and is in fine form for Mardi Gras parties. The scrapbooking shop has a new neighbor—he has no clue how to market or run a business. Gabby is in a panic over the whole thing. Tandy and Baby still drop by daily for the latest in crafting which includes wooden cigar box purses decorated in the French style.
Turn to the back of the book for scrapbooking tips and recipes like shrimp and tomato stew, jambalaya, peanut butter bars, strawberry pecan muffins, kettle corn, honey crunch chicken, red rooster cocktails, sweet potato biscuits, red beans and rice, Cajun meat loaf, and Mardi Gras meatballs.
In addition to this scrapbooking series, Childs writes the tea shop mysteries (fourteen so far) and the Cackleberry Club mysteries (four). Where she finds the time is a mystery to me but I hope she continues with them all.
Warning: the scrapbooking series will have you shopping at the local hobby shop and wishing it was Memory Mine. The recipes will have you checking air fair and hotel rates in New Orleans for Mardi Gras!
Bran New Death By Victoria Hamilton
Review by Sandra Murphy
Merry Wynter is thrilled to inherit Uncle Melvyn’s castle in Autumn Vale, New York, but is dismayed to find the place run down with giant holes in the back yard. Its saving grace is the restaurant quality kitchen. To make money, Merry starts baking muffins for the local nursing home and bakery.
It’s a wonder that Binny, owner of the bakery, will buy muffins from Merry. Binny and her brother, Tom, blame Uncle Melvyn for the death of their father, Rusty. Is Tom behind the holes dug in the yard and if so, what in the heck is he looking for? When Tom’s body is found in one of the craters, it seems he was behind the vandalism, but there are other forces at work as well.
The arrival of Merry’s BFF, Shilo, is a big help. It’s a little too creepy to stay in a castle by yourself, especially one that needs so many repairs and has those mysterious holes in the yard (they say Tom is looking for his father’s grave) and of course, Tom’s dead body in one of them.
It seems Uncle Melvyn and Rusty Turner were in business together, although the details are sketchy. How Melvyn was supposed to have killed Rusty is sketchy too, since Melvyn’s health wasn’t any too good. A number of bank accounts are found but all are gutted, the office manager doesn’t seem to know what was going on despite her personal involvement with Rusty and there are a number of other suspects. First thing to decide–is Rusty dead? Then move on to who did it and why? Tom’s death surely must be connected.
Merry has the distinct feeling that something/someone is watching the house from the woods. Orange eyes seen at night could put anybody’s nerves on edge–she decides it’s Becket, Melvyn’s lost cat, and that calms her nerves, just a bit–but should it?
This is the first in a series that shows a lot of promise. There’s a little mystery to carry over, some romance as well and you just want to know what happens next. Find recipes for Banana Bran muffins, Bacon Cheddar muffins, and Gouda and Harvest Vegetable Chowder at the back of the book. Hamilton also writes the Vintage Kitchen series, A Deadly Grind and Bowled Over (reviewed in KRL).
Going Through the Notions By Cate Price
Review by Sandra Murphy
In her late fifties, Daisy Buchanan has found her true calling in life. It’s her “new vintage” notions store, Sometimes a Great Notion. She sells vintage needles, ribbon and notions of all kinds. All are still in the original packaging and she’s got quite a following. She and her husband Joe, retired, are on their way to a really good auction, one with a dollhouse, a Singer Featherweight sewing machine which quilters love, glass doorknobs and more. On their arrival though, police are escorting a handcuffed Angus, Daisy’s friend, mentor and auctioneer, to a police car. He’s under arrest for the murder of Jimmy, a local down and out. It seems Jimmy might have stolen a set of antique ink pens and Angus retaliated.
Daisy can’t believe the gentle man she knows is capable of violence, but she learns there were incidents in his past that say otherwise. Still, his behavior now is off the wall so what could be wrong besides being stuck in a cell?
Daisy’s daughter Sarah pops in for an unexpected visit, with a dog no less, and a few problems in her love life. Betty, Angus’ wife can’t face visits to the jail so it’s up to Daisy to make sure he’s okay and to find the real murderer–while she runs the shop, buys and sells, doles out minimal advice to the lovelorn, fends off the “rightful” owner of the pens and of course, takes care of the dog.
Martha and Eleanor make great sidekicks, not to mention Martha’s a darn fine baker of treats. In the back of the book find the recipe for Martha’s Awesome Oatmeal Cookies and Crème Brulee Cheesecake Bars. There are also Daisy’s yard sale tips, instructions for lavender sachets, new uses for old sweaters and an old sewing machine cabinet. This is the first in a series and one you’ll enjoy. Daisy and Joe are a great couple. It’s nice to see older main characters who find a second or third career in what most people would consider the retirement years.
Murder, Plain and Simple By Isabella Alan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Who can be anti-watermelon? Joseph Walker, that’s who! Actually, it’s the whole Watermelon Festival he’s against. Joseph is Amish and doesn’t want the English (non-Amish) coming to gawk. The town wants the money the English will spend.
Angie Braddock inherited her Aunt Eleanor’s Amish quilt shop in Rolling Brook, Ohio. Eleanor fell in love with an Amish man and converted. Angie’s not ready to go that far, but she did take it as a sign it was time for a major change when her longtime boyfriend/fiancé, Ryan, broke their engagement due to “commitment issues,” something Angie thinks he could have discovered long before now. She’s left Texas behind, except for her favorite cowboy boots and is ready to make the shop a success, Joseph or not.
To complicate things further, Joseph claims he owns the land and the shop. Years ago records were lost. People were asked to bring deeds to the courthouse so paperwork could be filed, but the Amish don’t hold with too much government intrusion and many didn’t comply. Now Aunt Eleanor’s deed can’t be found, her old lawyer has died and did Angie uproot her entire life only to find out she doesn’t have a shop after all?
Angie agreed to meet a local reporter (who’s looking to make it big) for an early morning interview–it will help spread the word about the shop after all. When she arrives at the shop, her aunt’s best quilt– the double wedding ring– is missing from the wall behind the register. She goes to the storeroom to check on the quilt and finds Joseph’s body, throat cut with a rotary cutter she’s handled. Who else has such a good motive? There are a number of suspects, but given that the shop was locked when Angie and the reporter arrived, Angie’s looking good as a prime suspect.
This is a community you’d like to visit, a shop where you’d find welcome (and good snacks), and people you’d want for friends. A particular favorite is Oliver, the French bulldog, who is afraid of birds. There’s a lot of interesting information about Amish life, but it’s interwoven into the storyline so the reader learns details as Angie does. At the back of the book you’ll find Amish quilting tips and an excerpt of Murder, Simply Stitched which will be at booksellers in May 2014. Also, look for Plainly Murder a downloadable novella that takes place when Aunt Eleanor is still running the shop. Available at www.penguin.com.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “reading,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 9, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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