Penguin Mysteries For Your Winter Reading

Nov 14, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy

This week we have another fun group of mysteries, many of which have pets involved in some way, from Penguin authors-Dead with the Wind by Miranda James, Murder Plainly Read by Isabella Alan, Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers, and Plot Boiler: A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery by Ali Brandon. Details on how to win copies of all 4 books at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.

Dead with the Wind by Miranda James
Review by Sandra Murphy

The Ducote sisters, An’gel and Dickce (pronounced Dixie), are off to a wedding, and they’re not alone. Their ward, Benjy, Labradoodle, Peanut, and red Abyssinian cat Endora are along for the ride—and maybe to keep the sisters out of trouble. If that was the plan, it failed.

It’s three generations of relatives they’re visiting—Mireille is the grandmother, Jacqueline is her daughter and the sisters’ goddaughter, and Jacqueline’s daughter Sondra is a bridezilla and spoiled brat if there ever was one. Make that four generations. It’s a surprise to the sisters that Sondra has a three-year-old child. The identity of the baby daddy is very hush-hush. They’re taken care of by Estelle, a rude and hate-filled housekeeper and Jackson, an elderly

Sondra announces she won’t wear the wedding gown that’s been passed down from mother to daughter for years. Mireille and Jacqueline are exhausted by Sondra’s wills and won’ts. Lance, the groom, isn’t bothered by it. Frankly, he’s dumber than a box of rocks. Sondra isn’t very smart herself, but she’s cunning and manipulative.

During an argument with Mireille, Sondra throws cut-up pieces of the antique wedding gown from the second floor, causing Mireille to faint and hit her head. At the hospital, they say she also had a heart attack. The sisters are shocked to hear that she’s died.

At dinner, Estelle predicts a storm is coming, just like in a certain old legend. According to the tale, a bride was trying on her wedding dress when the wind caught up the veil and blew it out the open balcony door. The bride tried to catch it and was swept off the balcony by the next gust. The storm is a bad one, made worse by the discovery of Sondra’s body on the front lawn, wearing the dress she’d chosen as a substitute for the traditional gown. An’gel and Dickce are sure that foul play was involved.

If there hadn’t been previous “accidents,” Sondra’s death might have been filed away as another legend. By the time the police come around to the idea of murder, though, clues have been trampled, rained on, and cleaned up. Motives though? There are plenty of those.

Horace, Jacqueline’s second husband, has financial problems but can’t access her trust fund. Trey, Horace’s son (Sondra’s stepbrother), is in love with Sondra and wants to stop the wedding. Estelle hates Sondra. An’gel finds out that “follow the money” isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The story is full of twists and turns and nothing is as it appears to be. The sisters manage to bring the whole mess to a satisfactory conclusion in a most inventive way.

Benjy is a great addition to the cast of characters since he has the excuse of walking the dog so he can overhear clues. Of course, Peanut and Endora steal every scene they’re in, which is only right. I miss Diesel, the Maine Coon cat, and Charlie, the librarian. They are from the Cat in the Stacks mysteries (6). The Southern Ladies series (2), featuring the sisters, is a spinoff.

For a peek into life (and death) in the South, you can’t ask for better than a visit with An’gel and Dickce.

Murder Plainly Read by Isabella Alan
Review by Sandra Murphy

Angie Braddock has enough to do, what with running her Amish quilt shop and finding time to spend with her boyfriend James. He’s the sheriff and on call 24/7—or at least it feels that way. She was “encouraged” to be a town trustee recently and now has been volunteered to head up the book sale for the library. To top it off, her mother and father are moving to town to spend at least six months a year with her. Oh, boy. The Amish are pretty amused by her mom’s fashion sense and décor choices for their new house.

Luckily, her mother is a born organizer and pretty much takes over the job of running the book sale. It’s the same weekend as the opening of Aaron and Rachel’s pie factory, so the bookmobile is parked in their lot. Farmers will bring produce for a market and books will fly off the shelves. At least that’s the plan. book

Unfortunately, the woman who’s in charge of the bookmobile, Austina, isn’t a tactful person. She’s in a battle of wills with an Amish bishop who doesn’t want any of his congregation to read books and get fancy ideas. When he’s found dead in the bookmobile, Austina is the logical culprit.

Angie is worried about Austina. Her mom is worried about the book sale. It’s a mess for sure. Of course, there are other suspects. Bunny, an unlikely name for an obnoxious woman who used to help on the bookmobile, is livid that Austina got her fired just because she stole money from the fine box. Members of the bishop’s congregation are chafing at his rigid rules. A few of the townspeople don’t want the pie factory to open—it might cause traffic jams. Angie figures it’s easier for her to figure out what happened than to deal with the fallout.

Angie’s dad is a fun guy, which is a nice contrast to her by-the-rules mother. Oliver, her French bulldog, is a complex guy. He’s afraid of leaf blowers and birds, has Petunia (a Nubian goat) for a friend, and lets the kitten Dodger boss him around. All the while, he believes he’s the guard dog for the quilt shop. James is a good match for Angie, if he can get used to her being involved in his cases. On the other hand, the Amish won’t usually talk to the police and mostly will to her, so there may be benefits to her snooping. Zander, his son, shows a tender side of each of them.

This is the fourth in the series. Drop by the quilt shop to visit with Anna who’s getting a little too involved in Angie’s investigations, check out Mattie who runs the shop while Angie snoops, and get all the latest gossip from Sarah. Walk down the street to the bakery or stop by the factory to get a whole pumpkin fluff pie, Angie’s favorite. Sorry, no recipe included, but there are quilting tips. Reading the book is a visit to a town that feels like home.

Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers
Review by Sandra Murphy

Cassie Miller moved from a big city post office in Boston to a small, one-woman operation in North Ashcot. It’s an adjustment, but things are improving. She has help from Ben, the outgoing postmaster, who’s working part-time hours, both to make sure she does things right and because the post office is his lifeline. Since she grew up in the town but didn’t keep in touch with school friends, it’s sometimes a little awkward to realize people remember the oddest things—like her prom date with Wendell and the ugly green dress she wore.

One morning when she comes in to work, the place seems exceptionally neat and tidy. It takes a while for her to realize it’s because 200 telephone books, ready for distribution, are missing. Who would want them? Who still uses phone books? book

While she’s deciding whether to call the police or report the missing phone books to post office headquarters (hello? I just noticed I’m missing 200 phone books? That ought to impress people), her attention is diverted by an invitation to lunch with Scott who works at the antique store.

They no more than finish eating when the police arrive and haul Scott away in the back of a patrol car. It seems a body’s been found and the dead man had Scott’s name in his pocket. Scott denies everything, but Cassie noticed during lunch that he had a way of dodging any questions about himself. What is he hiding?

The dead guy turns out to be Wendell, her old prom date. He worked for the phone company. Suddenly, Cassie’s the most popular gal in town as anybody and everybody drops by the post office with an urgent need for stamps—and gossip, sure that Cassie knows all. She’s pretty sure she knows nothing, but she’s willing to try to find out. The phone books were only the beginning.

This is the first in a promising new series. Cassie is a good character who worries a little too much but has a good heart. Post office trivia is scattered throughout as she explains the inner workings of the postal service without dumping it all on the reader like a sack full of bulk mail. Ben starts out a bit grumpy but eases up and turns out to be a delight. Cassie lets people use the post office scale to weigh exotic animals and birds, which is a nice diversion. The police chief, Sunni, will be a good in-person friend for Cassie whose Boston BFF, Linda, is only a Skype away.

When you’re done reading, you might just treat your mail carrier a little differently.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her newest, “Arthur”, included in the anthology titled, Flash and Bang, available now.

Plot Boiler: A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery by Ali Brandon
Review by Cynthia Chow

Ever since inheriting her great-aunt’s Brooklyn bookstore, Texas native Darla Pettistone has been doing everything she can to ensure that it escapes the sad fate of so many independent book purveyors. It’s been just three months since Darla opened Pettistone’s Fine Coffee Bar in the hope that coffee and treats would boost book sales for Pettistone’s Fine Books, and so far it’s been a success. An unforeseen side effect has been alienating George King, the owner of Perky’s Coffee Shop (who in no way resembles his store’s name). As a result, he is the last holdout to pay his share for Darla’s latest inspiration to boost business for local retailers: a Fourth of July block party with food, flash mobs, live entertainment, and games.

A last-minute cancellation by the band becomes the least of Darla’s concerns when she discovers Perky’s shady–but not entirely illegal–profitable sideline. Several unexpected deaths threaten to undo all of the media and public relations goodwill, so it’s up to Darla and her friends to ensure that customers aren’t scared away—or their businesses ruined. Oversized feline Hamlet, the other bequest left to Darla by her great-aunt, fortunately continues his eerie talent of knocking around books that later become instrumental in identifying the nefarious criminals threatening his “staff.” Considering Darla’s tendency to jump to conclusions and ignore many of Hamlet’s forceful suggestions, she will definitely benefit from his stubborn perseverance. book

Author Brandon has found a winning formula in this series that incorporates mystery, coffee lore, a charming bookstore, and of course a grouchy but lovable cat. Darla’s compulsively over-achieving personality has her strategizing how to best market her beloved bookstore, and this latest block party will have readers envying its participants.

What becomes just as compelling as the mystery is Darla’s relationship with NYPD detective Fiorello Reese, who has come to accept her activities in his investigations without actually endorsing them. Darla’s laissez-faire attitude toward their future together may be leaving her in the dust, but readers can rest assured that she will always have the support of her furry companion and his hefty attitude. The welcome surprise is how well the author misdirects with her choice of victims, deftly plotting out a completely unexpected conclusion. This fifth in the series continues to grow stronger, proving that readers can never have enough fun mysteries full of cats, books, and delicacies.

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 “winter,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 21, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Click on this link to purchase any of these books. Keep in mind that this link just takes you to Amazon where you can look up these books & purchase them:

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).


  1. These all sound like GREAT reads – what a wonderful deal!

  2. What a fabulous collection of cozies! I would love to win. Thank you for the giveaway.

  3. Penguin sure has some great authors under its umbrella!!

  4. I want to read them all!! What a great gift!!

  5. I love all the PO references in your review! You can be sure “like a sack of bulk mail” will find its way into my current manuscript.
    Camille/Jean Flowers

  6. I love the reviews. Each one of these books sounds like a fun read.

  7. Oh, I want to read these so much!! I only have one of these, which would make a purrfect gift…thank you so much for the opportunity to win!!

  8. These all sound like books I would want to read

  9. Thank you for the opportunity! I enjoy cozy mysteries ever so much and would love to have any of these, a complete bonus to have all of them!

  10. Oh these all sound so good. I would like to read every one of them. Thank you for the Contest.

  11. What a great selection of new reads for cozy winter days. Thanks!

  12. Purr-fectly adorable!

  13. I ?? Copies! Thanks for the awesome giveaway!


  14. What a great giveaway. Thanks for the chance.

  15. I forgot the “n” on my last name.

  16. I read two of these series and can’t wait to start the other two. Thanks for the chance to win.

  17. What a great group of mysteries. Thank you for the opportunity to win.

  18. This looks like a great set of books.

  19. Now I am super ready for my Winter reading after seeing these reviews. These are some of my favorite authors and I am looking forward to snuggling up with them very soon.

  20. These sound great! I love the wry humor in your descriptions as well.

  21. Great books i hope i win one

  22. These books sound really good. 🙂

  23. We have a winner!


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