Book Review: Saving Irene by Judy Alter @JudyAlter

Saving Irene
A Culinary Mystery
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, September 2020
ISBN 978-0-9969935-6-2
Trade Paperback

Billed as a culinary mystery and set in Chicago, Saving Irene introduces us to Henny James whose job is to prepare ingredients for chef Irene Foxglove’s regional television cooking show.  Irene fancies herself a French chef trained at the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris but Henny doubts that.  Rather, she is convinced that Irene learned her cooking skills at a local junior college.  Nonetheless, Irene is the star and Henny the assistant.  Irene is married to Howard who is very protective, perhaps overly so, of Irene and since she has received at least one threatening letter Howard asks Henny to keep an eye on Irene and help protect her at work.  For me, this is a problem with this book’s premise for Henny is no more equipped to protect Irene than Irene’s daughter, the haughty and sullen Gabrielle is.  Nevertheless, Henny agrees to do so – at what cost to herself remains to be seen.

When Howard dies suddenly in what appears to be an accident Henny realizes that his protectiveness of Irene was perhaps not unwarranted, and it now falls to her to take on that job.  In the meantime, Irene’s publicist, Penny, is, on the one hand, urging Irene to write a cookbook while on the other scheming to advance another chef over Irene.  When Penny is eventually fired by Henny, upon whom Irene has come to depend for nearly everything, Penny’s determination to ruin Irene goes into high gear.

Meanwhile, Henny has become fast friends with her neighbor the handsome, helpful, and accommodating Patrick.  While Henny would love to become much closer to him, there is a problem – Patrick is gay – or at least so he seems but he is the nicest guy Henny has ever known.  And then, as if there isn’t enough going on, Gabrielle disappears without a word or a trace.

A lot of people on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites loved this book.  I cannot go quite that far.  It does have interesting characters and it is well written.  But I could not quite suspend my disbelief enough to see Henny as a protector of the annoying, demanding, and often insulting Irene.  That said, I think this book would be a quick and fun read for the beach or sitting on the porch for an afternoon.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, May 2021.

Book Review: Murder at the Bus Depot by Judy Alter and Lethal in Old Lace by Duffy Brown

Murder at the Bus Depot
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #4
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9990371-5-7
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Is the depot a symbol of the worst episode in a town’s history or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens of Wheeler together with pride in their community?

Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna goes up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler. Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate know she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning.

One of the things I like about this series is that each book, while clearly part of a series, is pretty well self-contained and can be read as a standalone. The author provides enough backstory so the reader has an understanding of earlier episodes but not so much that spoilers ruin the previous stories.

Kate and her fellow Wheeler citizens feel like old friends and the town itself reminds me of so many small towns dotted here and there, especially those that are suffering from a failing economy. Some of the local businesses are about ready to move while other townsfolk are always ready to talk about what might be done to bring in tourists and, thus, at least moderate cash infusion. When a developer comes to town with big ideas, Kate feels compelled to preserve the old bus depot where an unsolved murder occurred years ago but she certainly wasn’t prepared for a new killing.

Kate is a thoughtful woman, by which I mean she doesn’t go rushing willy-nilly into dangerous situations but thinks things through. The town of Wheeler has become her home and she’s intent on protecting it, a cause I can appreciate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Lethal in Old Lace
The Consignment Shop Mysteries #5
Duffy Brown
Crooked Lane Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-535-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon. But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters’ pink Caddy. The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle.

There’s no place better than Savannah for a consignment shop and the city has the extra attraction of feeling like a small town in the sense that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what. It’s no surprise that shopkeeper Reagan would get involved when Annie and Elsie are suspected of doing away with some of the senior citizens at Sleepy Pines to beef up their most unusual business. With the help of her cohorts, particularly Aunt Kiki and Reagan’s mom, Judge Gloria, the race is on to prove the sisters’ innocence and still get Reagan to the church on time, so to speak.

Once again, humor fills the pages of Reagan’s latest escapade and the case is as wacky as they come. I do recommend a reader new to the series start with the first one and be prepared to be totally charmed by this Southern fiction with a mysterious flair 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.