by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have a fun group of food mysteries for your Thanksgiving dinner reading-Asking for Truffle: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery by Dorothy St. James, Dead and Ganache: A Chocolate Whisperer Mystery by Colette London, The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams, Assault and Buttery: A Popcorn Shop Mystery by Kristi Abbott, The Great Chili Kill-Off: A Fresh Baked Mystery by Liv Washburn, and The Quiche and the Dead: A Pie Town Mystery by Kirsten Weiss. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 6 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
Asking for Truffle: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery by Dorothy St. James
Review by Cynthia Chow
Charity Penn is the epitome of the “poor little rich girl.” Abandoned at birth by her college-student father and fortune-telling mother, Penn was raised by her wealthy grandmother’s personal assistant. It’s not surprising that Penn has more than her share of trust issues, which is why she is so suspicious of a letter informing her that she’s won cooking lessons in Camellia Beach, South Carolina. Since Penn never entered any contest in the first place, her best friend Craig “Skinny” McGee, offers to check out the chocolate shop while visiting a nearby town for a surfing championship. After calling Penn and leaving a message telling her to join him and learn of the great discovery he’s made, she soon reads about his horrific death in a vat of chocolate.
Determined to discover the truth about what the local police have deemed a drug-related accident, Penn travels to the run-down beach community to confront the owners of the Chocolate Box. Expecting a con, Penn is startled to meet exuberant Mabel Maybank and Bertie Bays, as well as Bertie’s equally genial daughter Althea. At first Penn proves to be a disaster in the kitchen, but the women’s kindness and interest introduces her into the tantalizing world of exquisite chocolate. It’s a shock when Mabel passes away in the night, but the real bombshell is that Penn has been named the heir to the Chocolate Box. Now determined to discover why she was lured to Camellia Beach, who murdered Skinny, and why she was willed the chocolate store, Penn enlists Althea and two rivaling brothers to find the deadly secrets hidden in the rarest chocolate in the world. With a loophole that her death within five days would allow Mabel’s children to inherit instead, a ticking time clock is placed both on Penn’s investigation and her life.
Penn’s prickliness is a hard-coated layer that shields her inner vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Growing up as the black sheep of her family makes her suspicious of anyone who attempts to be close, and she unaccustomed to the familiarity and sentimentality of the Camellia Beach residents. Seeing Bertie and Althea melt her crusty exterior and break through her walls is a genuine delight, and their geniality and humor proves stronger than a lifetime of insecurity. An ex-boyfriend’s dubious gift of an irritable Papillon exasperates Penn and tests her patience, but perhaps that is because their personalities are a little too similar. The exploration of the unexpectedly complex business and production of exotic chocolates adds another layer to this charming cozy, making it a mystery of world trade as much as it is of family drama. This debut series promises to continue the intrigue in future installments, and readers will be hungry for that as much as for the delicious chocolate recipes.
Dead and Ganache: A Chocolate Whisperer Mystery by Colette London
Review by Cynthia Chow
Hayden Mundy Moore rarely receives credit for the work she does, preferring to labor behind-the-scenes as she secretly improves chocolate recipes for her clients. The self-described Chocolate Whisperer was traveling to Saint-Malo, France, for the retirement party of the mentor who led her down the path of chocolate appreciation, chocolaterie owner Philippe Vetault. His au revoir party was to coincide with the seaside town’s Fest-Noz, a Brittany nighttime party celebrated with fireworks, food, music, and dancing. Before Philippe can make the special announcement he promised, Hayden finds him stabbed to death, with an angry man standing above him.
Local police refuse to arrest the gardener Hayden nicknames “Angry Bloody Hands Man,” inciting Hayden into action and investigating on her own. With her usual best friend/bodyguard Danny Jamieson grounded due to a detached retina, there’s no one to reign in her impulsive, rather chaotic pursuit for justice. Enter financial adviser Travis Turner, who has made his way to France to surprise Hayden, only to once again find her mixing chocolate with murder.
Hayden has never met Travis Turner, but it’s not from lack of trying. The owner of the husky, undeniably sexy voice has proven to be frustratingly resistant to Hayden’s teasing come-ons, refusing to overcome his aviophobia to board a plane and meet his client in person. For someone with an abundance of curiosity and stubborn resilience, meeting her “keeper” and the one in charge of her finances has been the White Whale of Hayden’s existence. Until now.
Travis is the opposite of Danny’s all-in, going rogue, avoid-the-police approach to investigations. Au contraire, Travis has become very cozy with l’agent Melanie Flamant, who takes a far more lackadaisical approach to her questioning of Philippe’s unmournful wife and his angry business neighbors. Of course, being involved in a multitude of murders has had its effect on Hayden, who nevertheless remains unwaveringly loyal to those in the chocolate business. The one opinion Danny and Travis share is that Hayden is far too trusting, placing her faith in people until proven otherwise. Yet it is Hayden’s plucky optimism that makes her such a delight for readers, not to mention her enthusiasm for all aspects of chocolate. The nuances of chocolate delicacies are only enhanced by the French setting, not to mention the sensual, gastronomical way of life. This is a genuinely fun mystery, helmed by a relentlessly positive character who perseveres despite the death around her. Chocolate, intrigue, and death have never been so entertaining.
The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams
Review by Cynthia Chow
Bibliotherapist. The mystery isn’t how such an occupation could exist, but why it hasn’t become established sooner. Anyone who loves reading and felt alone in the world knows how books are often the one reliable source of comfort, wisdom, and companionship. Visitors come to Miracle Springs for the healing power of the town’s water, and if they are lucky they will also venture into the bookshop owned by Nora Pennington. It is from her Miracle Books that the former librarian practices as a bibliotherapist, helping customers sort out their troubles through the emotional tales and universal relationships told through books. Their stories relate tales of sorrow, hope, and redemption, inspiring readers to move forward in their own lives. Just as powerful is the Gingerbread House, where Hester Winthrop creates customized comfort scones that awaken a customer’s fondest memories and take them back to when they were happiest.
The attractions of Miracle Springs cause a revelation in Neil Parrish, whose property management firm has been developing new housing in nearby farmland. So when he is hit by a train, Nora is certain that it was by his own intent; Neil was far too optimistic for the future. Sheriff Todd “Toad” Hendricks already has his mind made to declare it a suicide, but Nora believes that Neil’s change of heart may have led to his business partners taking dire action. They have also come to Miracle Springs to consolidate their plans, and with the sheriff’s own brother involved, Nora fears that justice, and their own town, is in jeopardy.
Hester and Nora are joined by salon owner Estella Sadler and Thermal Pools attendant June Dixon, and together the women form the Secret, Book & Scone Society to bring back peace to Miracle Springs. To truly bond they believe that they each must share the secret they each hide that has held them back in life, and as the novel progresses, their struggles and triumphs are revealed. The mystery is solid and compelling, but the shining light of the novel is the genuine friendship that develops between the women. Nora sees the beauty and power in books, but it came through her own tragedy that left her scarred and riddled with guilt. The humor and exuberance of her friends elevate her out of her sadness, and they all become a delight for readers throughout the novel. The thrilling and suspenseful conclusion will have them on the edge of their seats, with a conclusion that promises even more rewarding mysteries and stories to come. This is truly a mystery series for those who believe in the empathetic power of books.
Assault and Buttery: A Popcorn Shop Mystery by Kristi Abbott
Review by Sandra Murphy
Rebecca Anderson owns a gourmet popcorn shop, making sweet treats like S’Mores popcorn bars or savory popcorn with shiitake crisps (recipes included). A grease fire has put her out of business temporarily. She’s able to do a few special orders from home, but if the kitchen remodel/repair isn’t done soon, temporarily out of business may just become permanently out of business.
A seat is open on the City Council, and there are a number of candidates in the running. Allen, the mayor, asks Rebecca to make special tins of Bacon Pecan Popcorn for each of the candidates, a welcome chance for her to cook and make a little money.
As part of the wall comes down in the kitchen, an old diary falls out. Rebecca is glad for the diversion and is intrigued to find out the girl who wrote it knew Rebecca’s grandmother. The last page of the diary ends with one worrisome sentence. Why not use this down time to find out what happened so long ago? If nothing else, she’ll be able to return the diary to the writer or her family.
In the meantime, the tins of popcorn are delivered to City Hall and distributed. One of the candidates turns down the gift, citing an allergy to nuts, previously unmentioned. Somehow the popcorn ends up with the town grouch who eats it and dies. Was he the target or the candidate? Who had access to the popcorn?
Such a simple thing as asking a few questions after the dead man’s funeral shouldn’t lead to jail time but before she knows it, Rebecca is outfitted in a basic orange jumpsuit and is locked in a cell. Her brother-in-law and her boyfriend conspired to have her arrested for obstruction of justice, saying her questions impeded the investigation.
Rebecca’s cellmate is Cathy, who admits she’s guilty of embezzling from the city. She also says she’s done more than that but those crimes haven’t come to light as yet. She’s not repentant but does want to know who turned her in and how they found out. Even though Cathy’s not a very likable person, Rebecca wants to help her. Everybody needs a friend.
What makes this different than the usual cozy mystery is the diary and the jail time. The diary tells about a crazy relative. After the girl mentions it to a classmate, she starts having “accidents.” What better use of Rebecca’s jail time than to figure out an old mystery?
The plot and subplots are rich and add depth—the diary, what happened to the girl who wrote it, Cathy and who ratted her out, the dead man, and a bit of romance. If Rebecca weren’t so angry at her boyfriend, she might take time to think about that too.
This is the third book in the series. Rebecca is a developed character showing signs of growth as she realizes that her innocent questions make her brother-in-law feel she doesn’t think he does a good job. Cathy reminds her, friends are important. This series is about a lot more than popcorn and shows great promise.
The Great Chili Kill-Off: A Fresh Baked Mystery by Liv Washburn
Review by Sandra Murphy
Phyllis, Sam, Eve, and Carolyn are off to a West Texas ghost town for what is advertised as the world’s largest chili cookoff. Sam has entered his Smokin’ Red, and Carolyn signed up for the side dishes portion of the day. She’s specializing in ways to use leftover chili. The four are housemates, all retired teachers. They’ve borrowed an RV for the trip, and Sam will sleep in his truck.
Texans take their chili seriously. There are several guys who came close to winning but never have. For three years now, it’s been Joe D. Hammersmith. He’s also the one who wins big at poker. There have been allegations of cheating in both the chili contest and card games—and with other contestant’s wives. All in all, Joe D., is not well-liked.
Phyllis writes a column for a small paper but now has an assignment for a feature story about the cookoff. If gossip was news, she’d have enough to fill up several features. Joe D. is accused of cheating a fellow cooker out of a huge pot in a card game, another man says Joe is after his wife (again), and a sixteen-year-old girl seems to like Joe’s attention but her daddy better not hear about it. In the midst of it all, is Hiram who owns the entire town and calls himself the Mayor or Grand Poobah. It’s in his best interests to keep things running smoothly.
When the town is rocked by an explosion, the state police find that Joe D. has been killed in the blast. It was his RV that blew up, presumably when he started his propane grill which led to the RV propane and then the gas tank. The local constable is left out of the loop, the sheriff barely gets any information, and not only are the state police involved but BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions) and the Texas Rangers are called in.
Although there are suspects who have a long history with Joe D., Sam’s fingerprint is found on a piece of Joe`s grill. Sam’s explanation that he just took a look at it, isn’t enough to satisfy the Texas Ranger.
Phyllis has quite a reputation for solving murders. Can she do it again, to protect Sam? In the past, one of the people she helped works for Inside Beat, a news show. They’re on hand to cover the cookoff and hire Phyllis to find the killer—preferably while they’re on hand and filming.
This is book twelve in the series. Readers will enjoy the four main characters who are in their retirement but not only using skills from their teaching days but learning new ones as well. Back home, Sam has a Dalmatian who figures into the stories but wasn’t allowed to go along this time. Carolyn can be a bit judgmental, Eve is a big flirt (maybe husband number five is on the horizon?), and Phyllis and Sam are a low-profile couple, sweet to see.
Recipes include Sam’s Smokin’ Red, gluten-free oat muffins, ginger citrus tea, spicy corn waffles, chili gluten-free lasagna, cheesey chili shepherd’s pie, and chili potato cakes.
The Quiche and the Dead: A Pie Town Mystery by Kirsten Weiss
Review by Sandra Murphy
Valentine Harris moved to be near her fiancé. Her dream of opening her own pie business became a reality. The wedding did not. Mark got increasingly cranky as the date neared, until finally Val gave him an ultimatum. He broke up with her.
Now she’s stuck with a wedding dress no one wants and seeing photos of Mark all over town. He’s a realtor and it seems like every listing is his. Without the money to buy or even rent, Val is sleeping in the pie shop’s office and showering at her gym.
There are hand pies, pot pies, fruit pies, and as a welcome gift to her new business neighbor, Heidi, a quiche. One of Val’s regulars bets that Heidi will turn down the offering. If he wins, he gets the pie. Val is annoyed to find out he’s right. Heidi is against all things Val thinks taste good—pie dough, sugar, fruit, anything pie. As her regular eats the quiche, he goes belly up dead. The police suspect the pie killed him, but Val knows better. Until her shop is cleared of blame, customers are few and far between.
Charlene, head pie crust maker and eccentric woman of a certain age, says the man was murdered. He and a friend had a hobby of sorts. They solved puzzles or would-be, could-be, crimes and kept casebooks about their investigations. Charlene convinces Val to help her sneak into the man’s house to search for evidence so they can solve his murder. At stake is a tiny house rental Charlene has, but she won’t rent to Val until the murderer is found.
In the journal, it’s all spelled out. There was the Case of the Whispering Wanderer, The Bloated Blond, and The Mystery of the Thudding Footfalls. Nothing sounds like something worth getting killed over. Charlene is the best pie crust maker around though, and Val has no other social life so it seems innocent enough to humor her.
Until the next body turns up and Val’s the one who finds it. And the one after that.
This is a truly quirky read that will leave readers laughing as they follow Val, Charlene, and her cat, Frederick (he has narcolepsy she says) through stakeouts, investigations, and interrogations. What looks to be bizarre, all makes sense by the end.
This is the first in the series. Bleeding Tarts will be the next. Pre-order it so you don’t miss it! Weiss also writes paranormal, genre-blended steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mysteries. She says she never met a dessert she didn’t like which is good for readers as she includes recipes for spinach and goat cheese quiche (guaranteed not to kill anyone), cheesy bacon breakfast pie, Pennsylvania Dutch strawberry rhubarb pie, and curried turkey pot pie. There’s also a recipe for yummy mushrooms within the pages of the story.
To enter to win a copy of all 6 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “thanksgiving food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 25, 2017. 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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