by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have even more fun mysteries to add to your TBR list-Death and Sensibility: A Jane Austin Society Mystery by Elizabeth Blake, A Scone for Contention: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette, Coached in the Act: The Life Coach Mystery by Victoria Laurie, and Murder Gets A Makeover: A Jaine Austen Mystery by Laura Levine. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 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.
Death and Sensibility: A Jane Austin Society Mystery by Elizabeth Blake
Review by Cynthia Chow
The city of York is holding the UK’s first ever Jane Austen conference, and the Jane Austen Society’s Northern Branch has the honor and responsibility of being selected host. Kirkbymooreside book store owner Erin Coleridge is thrilled to be attending alongside her best friend Farnsworth Appleby, a woman whose personality matches her statuesque size. The keynote speaker Barry Wolf more than resembles his last name, with a much younger trophy wife who barely pretends to be interested in either the conference or her husband. Taking up the mantle as the most gallant and courteous is Grant Apthorp, an Austen expert from Cardiff University who not only rescues from a fall, he all but asks for the hand of a bowled-over Farnsworth. It’s fortunate that there are so many lecturers on hand, as another speaker will be needed when Barry Wolf is found dead in the cloakroom.
Unwilling and unable to believe that such an unlikable man could have died by natural causes, Erin takes it upon herself to being an investigation that will prove that the Wolf was murdered. This is despite the adamant warnings from Detective Inspector Peter Hemming with whom she previously bonded over murder and puns but is not proving stubborn about her amateur detecting. Kirkbymooreside’s extremely handsome Jonathan Adler is proving to be a much more helpful assistant, stirring up as much envy as he does clues. An angry ex-wife, jealous assistant, greedy inheriting son, and a conference full of eccentric Austenites will all fill up Erin’s murder board of suspects and motives.
This second in the series gleefully mixes mystery with a love of Jane Austen’s writings. While having no legitimate justification for delving into Barry Wolf’s death, she tries to explain her need for control and commitment issues as the result of the devastating loss of her mother. Erin and her friends can be rather judgmental and snarky at times, falling in line nicely with the gossipy and society-ruled characters frequently found in Austen’s books. As appropriate for any tribute to the works of Jane Austen, Erin also finds herself torn between a darkly dashing dangerous man and a perfectly handsome, most eligible bachelor. Erin’s feelings are made quite clear as she manages to get herself in and out of trouble, and by the end the love triangle seems to be at an end. Nothing is ever simple in romantic mysteries, though, so future installments should look to complicate Erin’s enviable young life. This series delivers all of the witty banter, gossip, and romantic miscommunications that any Austenite or mystery-fan could hope to have in a modernized tribute to the works of a celebrated author.
A Scone for Contention: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
It shouldn’t be surprising that food critic Hayley Snow and Nathan Bransford are about to embark on anything but a conventional honeymoon vacation. After a long delay and recently finalized renovations on their Key West houseboat, the newlyish-weds are finally leaving for a much-anticipated honeymoon in Scotland. Not only will Hayley be able to visit the landmarks made famous in the kilt-filled Outlander, she will be able to taste regional delicacies as a roving traveling correspondent and submitting sections for Florida’s Key Zest Magazine. This trip also allows Hayley to finally meet Nathan’s rather mysterious sister Vera Campbell, although now it seems that Nathan’s mother has jumped aboard to make the honeymoon something of a family reunion. The more the merrier at this point, since Hayley’s houseboat neighbor Miss Gloria has already been invited to join them on what would be her first trip away since she became a widow decades ago.
Nathan is whisked away by his brother-in-law for some much anticipated golf playing, so Hayley and Miss Gloria join Vera as she photographs historic sites for her travel book highlighting Scotland’s “thin places.” Considered to be sacred areas where the veil between heaven and earth are thin and overlap causing psychic sensations, the depictions of these have become a topic of conflict between Vera and her co-author. Gavin wants to make the guidebook more of an interactive experience, integrating a virtual reality Oculite headset that would allow readers to “visit” the locations and feel the same sensations of those living in those historical times. It’s a little too real for Miss Gloria, who was already devastated to learn of the tragic betrayals between her people and Vera’s husbands. Gavin’s wife suffers her own very real bout of food poisoning during a dinner hosted by one of Vera’s friends, a poisoning that is soon determined to have been intentional. After witnessing yet another death while visiting the tourist attraction Falkirk Wheel, Hayley and Miss Gloria begin connecting the dots that lead back to Vera and her college friends. Nathan is already distracted by the ability to tee off of courses tread upon by Tiger Woods (and he knows he couldn’t stop them if he tried), so when not tasting Bake-Off winning scones, Cullen skink, and cock-a-leekie soup, Hayley and Miss Gloria continue their trend of uncovering secrets while getting their fill of delicious culinary treats.
This eleventh in the series takes Hayley and her friends out of the quirky Key West setting and lands them in the equally gorgeous and thrilling Scotland isles. The author makes the most of its unique history and cuisine, with recipes included for the adventurous. Tourism, and how it is marketed and promoted, is a challenge facing many towns where pop culture-linked and Instagram-friendly attractions overshadow and overwhelm historical accuracy and respect for the cultures. Here that topic is handled thoughtfully, as Vera attempts to maintain the integrity of her research while having to bow to economic realities. The relationship between Haley and Miss Gloria has always been heart-warming and fun, with Hayley being the one to put the brakes on Gloria’s rather exuberant and adventurous behavior. Tying their Scottish mysteries back to Florida is the uncharacteristic behavior of Hayley’s best friend’s husband Ray, who was involved in a Key West shooting and yet refuses to say why. An additional treat are food-centric quotes from outstanding mystery and culinary writers at the start of every chapter, all which should help readers looking to add to their to-be-read list. Hayley and Nathan have an enviable new marriage, but the bond between Hayley and Gloria make this the real treat in this funny, scenic, food-friendly mystery.
Coached in the Act: The Life Coach Mystery by Victoria Laurie
Review by Cynthia Chow
For the characters who populate Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye and Ghost Hunter mystery series, being “ghosted” usually involves actual paranormal possessions or hauntings. In this third entry of the Cat & Gilley Life Coach Mystery series, though, their new client Aaron Nassau is being “ghosted” by the love of his life whom he met just six months ago. While Cat and her BFF partner Gilley Gillespie are surprised that someone would actually break up with real-life Count from Denmark, they are determined to life coach him into moving on with his life. Unfortunately, that will become a bit more complicated when it turns out that his ex has just been murdered and his bejeweled, royal family crested letter opener was the weapon.
Famous – and infamous – socialite Yelena Galanis is performing a much-in-demand one-woman rendition of her version of the “Twelve Angry Men,” in which she details the exploits of her many past paramours. While Gilley and most of the audience finds her roasting of barely veiled targets hilarious, Cat finds the barbs a little too bitter and cruel, causing her to take a break during the intermission before Yelena gets to the down-and-dirty naming of names. Cat spotting a man in the next door café with blood on his hands is alarming, but that’s nothing compared to when she learns that Yelena has just been stabbed to death in her dressing room. She’s frustrated and more than a little insulted when her boyfriend Detective Steve “Shep” Shepherd advises her to go home and keep her opinions about the investigation to herself, especially considering how she and Gilley have previously helped/hindered previous cases. So while their client list within Cat’s renovated office building is a bit on pause, she and Gilley begin tracking down the identities of the twelve angry men who may not have wanted their identities and secrets exposed. Stumbling across a second body in an alley further throws Cat and Gilley into the investigation, but it’s the involvement of Shep’s sister Sunny D’Angelo that makes the case personal. When a suspected suicide attempt also makes her the primary suspect, what has become a life-or-death investigation initiates every impulsive instinct in a duo already not known for conservative behavior.
While Cat and Gilley are often the comic relief side characters in the series respectively featuring Cat’s Sister Abby and MJ Holliay-Whitefeather, together their pop culture knowledge and social media-friendly skills prove to make them surprisingly effective investigators. The overly dramatic, ghost-phobic reactions Gilley frequently displays in the Ghost Hunter mysteries are absent here, making him the more grounded and rational one. He is experiencing his own personal crisis as his long-distance marriage to photographer Michel falters, which is why the adoption of the perfectly named Staffordshire terrier Spooks the comfort companion he needs. Away from the ghosts that terrorize him, Gilley is the voice of reason reining in Cat as she pushes legal boundaries and Shep’s patience. Filled with humor as well as emotional resonating moments, this ghost-less mystery series entertains as it builds towards a shocking reveal and sequel-inspiring ending.
Murder Gets A Makeover: A Jaine Austen Mystery by Laura Levine
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jaine Austen, no relation to the author, is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Mostly she writes ad copy for Toiletmasters Plumbers to convince customers of the virtues of the double-flush commode. It keeps a roof over her head and her cat, Prozac, in mackerel gut dinners.
Jaine’s BFF Lance has brilliant ideas, most of which get Jaine in trouble, none more than his latest brainstorm. Jaine should get a makeover from the Instagram-famous stylist, Bebe! Jaine thinks she’s fine just the way she is—until someone mistakes her casual look for ‘homeless and in need.’
Bebe isn’t a dream to work with but a total nightmare. No one escapes her wrath including her husband, a seamstress, a former mentor, and a famous client. Meaning, anyone who ever met Bebe has a reason to hate her.
On the other hand, Bebe has a blue cashmere sweater Jaine is in lust with and a personal assistant, Justin, ever so young and adorable, who inspires more lust than the sweater. A demanding phone call from Bebe sends Jaine to the house only to find Bebe slumped over her desk—a wire coat hanger embedded in her dead neck, making Jaine Suspect Number One.
Her personal life is equally chaotic. Justin’s idea of a date doesn’t match Jaine’s, but she’s willing to compromise. Prozac manages to become an internet sensation. Lance is sure he knows the killer’s identity. Her favorite t-shirt is in the hands of a Jell-o wrestler.
With the help of Double Stuf Oreos, will Jaine be able to clear her name, live with Prozac’s inflated ego (and Lance’s), get lime Jell-o out of her ears and other unmentionable locations? Orange jumpsuits may run in the family as Jaine receives emails from her dad in Florida, as he stalks, Lydia, an enemy from the retirement community, to catch her in a scandal.
This is book twenty-one in the series. Jaine’s life is a constant tug of war between Prozac and Lance, to see who cause her the most grief. The inclusion of emails from Jaine’s dad, telling of his latest schemes, balanced by emails from her mom, relating dad’s latest disasters, adds to the humor. Beneath the laughter, lies a darn good murder mystery. Grab a pint of Chunky Monkey, a full package of Double Stuf Oreos, and settle in for an entertaining read.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “november” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 13, 2021. 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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