by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have 5 more food mysteries for your Christmas enjoyment-A Deadly Éclair: A French Bistro Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber, Blackberry Burial: A Berry Basket Mystery by Sharon Farrow, Honey-Baked Homicide: A Down South Café Mystery by Gayle Leeson, Potions and Pastries: A Magical Bakery Mystery by Bailey Cates, and Running Out of Time: A Dodie O’Dell Mystery by Suzanne Trauth. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
A Deadly Éclair: A French Bistro Mystery by Daryl Wood Gerber
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mimi Rousseau has long dreamt of opening her own bistro. For that, you need a mentor, a financial backer, and a friend to offer encouragement. To find all three in one person, well, it’s a miracle.
Bryan Baker is Mimi’s miracle. He’s fronted the money for her bistro and a B&B, is taste-tester for the menu, and pushes her to go bigger than her dreams had dared. Now she’s planning the wedding event for his niece, Angelica, a TV personality, and things have to be perfect. Angelica is marrying Lyle, a jeweler. Everything is going according to plan except the wedding party. They’re not playing nice with each other.
Angelica is the peacemaker, calming Lyle who has bouts of anger. He argues with his sister, Paula, who in turn argues with their father, David. There’s a years-old issue between David and Bryan that still simmers, at least on David’s part. The not-best-man tells more about the groom than Lyle’s comfortable with during the evening’s toasts. Angelica’s father (Bryan’s half-brother), Edison, shows up drunk. In addition, he has a gambling problem.
When Bryan’s body is found in the early morning hours, there are plenty of motives and suspects, including Mimi. Bryan’s will states any and all debt Mimi owes him for the bistro and B&B is forgiven. Mimi didn’t know that but try proving a negative. David’s alibi sounds fake, Lyle has several business loans but swears he has the funds to cover them, Angelica inherits Bryan’s estate and her alibi is none too good.
Mimi’s not one to put herself in danger but does theorize about the crime and asks a few blunt questions. On the receiving end of several threats, the murderer has to be found before the bridal party heads for home and leaves Mimi on the hot seat.
The mystery will keep you guessing. Mimi has a possible love interest, but she’s not pinning her hopes on it working out. Two of her employees have secrets—one a hidden identity, the other claims to have been abducted by aliens. Then there’s her mother who thinks there’s a ghost in her house.
Thankfully, Mimi is a generous chef and shares recipes at the back of the book to tide readers over until her next escapade. They include: eggs benedict, balsamic vinaigrette, onion soup gratinee, her house specialty, Gruyere and mushroom quiche, steak au poivre, her seasoning blend for chicken, crème brulee, orange cardamom madeleines, French raspberry sour cream tart, and a pastry dough (all three with gluten-free versions included), plus the eclairs mentioned in the title but guaranteed, delicious, not deadly. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Blackberry Burial: A Berry Basket Mystery by Sharon Farrow
Review by Sandra Murphy
Marlee Jacob owns The Berry Basket where all things are berry oriented. Tourist season is important to the bottom line of any business so she agrees to help with the Blackberry Art School’s centenary celebration by finding a location for the start of the road rally, a mobile scavenger hunt with clues to follow.
The Sanderling farm will make a perfect start to the day. Marlee goes with her friend, Piper, to the farm to check it out. There are long-standing rumors that the farm is haunted, but no one knows exactly why. Piper brought a companion with her. It seems her husband feels she needs protection since a recent murder, so she’s gotten a dog—a Great Dane named Charlemagne who she’s had for a week and not begun to train. Marlee thinks the name is as pretentious as Piper and calls him Charlie.
Charlie manages to escape into the woods. Since Piper’s footwear is unsuitable for the rough ground, who can go find him, but Marlee? After quite the trek, she finds Charlie digging a hole. When a human skull peers up at her, Marlee may have found the source of the haunting.
The shock is worse when one of her employees admits he knows whose body it is. Years ago, a talented young artist went missing without a trace from the art school. The students were divided by age and formed close friendships that survive over the years. It narrows the suspects to the victim’s closest friends, including the owner of the farm. Old secrets, not ghosts, are what haunts them. In the end, the truth always comes out.
The characters are a likable bunch which is more than can be said for some of the returning students. Twin brothers work for Marlee and are a wealth of trivia, just in case it’s needed to solve the road rally clues. Piper is a piece of work but nice in her own way—as long as she gets her way, that is. There’s a lot of information about berries woven throughout the story, never getting in the way of the mystery.
At the back of the book, look for recipes for blackberry cantaloupe salad, blackberry balsamic drumsticks, paleo blackberry muffins, and blackberry lemon pound cake. The first book in the series is Dying for Strawberries.
Honey-Baked Homicide: A Down South Café Mystery by Gayle Leeson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Amy Flowers owns the Down South Café. Business has been good and to encourage more, she’s test marketing local goods like Stu Landon’s honey from his own hives. Stu’s passionate about bees. No one in town knows much about him except he showed up years ago, bought a place and keeps to himself.
The honey flies off the shelf so Amy drives out to Stu’s to see if he has more available. He’s upset when she arrives. A neighbor is spraying pesticides, and it’s killing his bees. The hives are closed after the bees return at night so spraying then wouldn’t hurt but that suggestion hasn’t happened.
Stu agrees to bring more honey to the café the next morning, so when Amy arrives at work, she’s not startled to see Stu’s truck parked in the lot. Although it looks like Stu’s napping while waiting for her, he’s dead. It’s obvious he wasn’t killed there, but still, who would want to eat where a dead body was found? Amy can’t help but try to figure out who could have wanted to kill the beekeeper.
This is the third book in the series. Amy is a sensible woman who doesn’t put herself into dangerous situations although sometimes they do happen. Dilly, a regular customer, is an older woman who is a delight. Homer, another regular, is there every day for a sausage biscuit, right at ten o’clock. He chooses a hero to quote each day, a quirk readers will look forward to throughout the pages. Amy’s cousin Jackie is a good friend as well. Amy’s mom and her Aunt Bess, well, they’re a hoot.
With a cast of characters you’d want to meet, who’d not just welcome you but sit a minute to talk, Winter Garden, Virginia, is a place to visit again and again. The mystery had clues and red herrings throughout, but the reveal was still a surprise.
Of course, there are recipes—chocolate pistachio cake, chicken salad, dinner rolls, and butterscotch cake and icing.
Potions and Pastries: A Magical Bakery Mystery by Bailey Cates
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the two-year anniversary of the Honeybee Bakery’s opening approaches, Katie Lightfoot reflects on just how much has changed. She never regrets being convinced by her Aunt Lucy to leave Akron for Savannah, as it has led to the joy of opening their own bakery, discovering her hedgewitch heritage, and even becoming engaged. As much as she’s embraced her family’s legacy of healing with nature and food, Katie does raise an eyebrow at the predictions of a gypsy fortune-teller warning of impending sacrifices and portentous decisions to come. Orla Black comes from a long line of Irish Travelers, and as much as Katie would like to believe Orla’s just another charlatan, Aunt Lucy respects the woman’s talents. Perhaps Orla should have been looking ahead to her own future—or even just right in front of her—as she inexplicably walks in front of a car and to her death.
Detective Peter Quinn may have finally accepted the existence of things he can’t explain, but he’s unable to declare the death as anything other than a tragic accident. The presence of Katie’s totem dragonflies, as well as the reaction of her Cairn terrier Mungo, indicate a more otherworldly influence. Even more suspicious than the leprechaun spirit inhabiting Katie’s fiancé are the five life insurance policies placed on Orla, each by a different family member. With Orla’s own family of Travelers having the most reasons to want her dead, it’s up to Katie and her spellbook club of fellow witches and familiars to discover if, and how, magic may have had a hand in Orla’s death.
A catalyst for danger and lightwitch whose mission is to bring justice, this explains how Katie has found herself in the midst of her seventh murder. Despite the deaths, a rival druid, and even the aforementioned possession by an ancestor, Katie is finally engaged to firefighter Declan McCarthy. Even those without a hedgewitch background will relate to Katie’s dilemma as they blend households and hunt for the perfect new home, as Katie dreads leaving her beloved cottage and bewitching garden. Choices and sacrifices must be made, and yet they will not be the ones Katie expected. An eerie weapon is unleashed, yet it is set into motion by very mundane and human motivations. As the truth spreads about Katie’s talents and investigations, her world opens up to even more exciting and intriguing possibilities.
Running Out of Time: A Dodie O’Dell Mystery by Suzanne Trauth
Review by Cynthia Chow
To boost its appeal and attract more customers, restaurant manager Dodie O’Dell convinced the Windjammer’s owner and chef to create menus tied into their community theatre’s plays. This winter the Etonville Little Theatre is presenting an adaptation of “Our Town,” with “Eton Town” focusing on Etonville’s founding just after the American Revolution. So Dodie was already immersed in corralling baking students and designing a tasty 1770s menu when she literally stumbled into a body on stage.
Despite Etonville being a small New Jersey town where everyone knows everybody else and rumors only have an acquaintance with the truth, the identity of the victim confounds both the police and local residents. Only newcomer Sally Oldfield seemed to have had a reaction to seeing him when alive, but she didn’t stay around to answer questions. Sally’s disappearance makes her the main suspect of Chief of Police Bill Thompson, and after cancelling their Valentine’s Day date, this is only one more stumbling block in his relationship with Dodie. Despite knowing very little about Sally, the one thing Dodie is certain about is that the young woman could never commit a murder. Now to save ELT’s production of “Eton Town,” attract a reviewer, and ensure the safety of Sally, Dodie will once again allow her incurable curiosity to solve a murder and track down a killer.
This third in the series welcomes readers to the delightfully eccentric Etonville community. Despite being dependent on tourism to survive, there exists a strong divide between locals and visitors, which ensures for a surplus of motives and possible killers. A visiting model/ex-cop/private investigator spurs on both the investigation and Bill’s interest in Dodie, although she seems to be getting irritated at both men. Those new to the series will have no trouble diving into this latest entry, while fans will love reuniting with this eclectic cast of characters. A director whose acting exercises often result in injuries, rival actresses, and a Romeo who lives up to his nickname, all enhance this suspenseful and very funny mystery novel. The snowy winter setting will have readers ready to curl up for a comforting, heart-warming read.
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 “food christmas,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 2, 2018. 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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