Book Review: Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs

egg-drop-deadEgg Drop Dead
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #7
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28170-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In Laura Childs’s New York Times bestselling mystery series, Suzanne, Petra, and Toni—co-owners of the Cackleberry Club café—are back to track down another bad egg…
 
Maintaining good personal relationships with their suppliers is one of the secrets of the Cackleberry Club café’s success, so Suzanne doesn’t mind going out to Mike Mullen’s dairy farm to pick up some wheels of cheese. She’s looking forward to a nice visit with the mild-mannered farmer before heading back to their hectic kitchen.
 
But when she arrives, Mike’s nowhere to be found. The moaning of his cows leads her to look in the barn, where she discovers a bloodcurdling sight—the farmer’s dead body. Apparently not everyone was as fond of Mike Mullen as the Cackleberry Club.
 
Churning with grief and outrage, Suzanne, Petra, and Toni vow to find the farmer’s murderer—but as they get closer to the truth, the desperate killer gets whipped into a frenzy and plans to put the squeeze on them…

Why on earth would anyone want to brutally kill a quiet, likeable dairy farmer? Cafe owner Suzanne has no idea but her best friends and partners, Toni and Petra, push her to do her own unofficial investigation. Reluctant at first, Suzanne caves in, mainly because she found the body and, to her way of thinking, she’s already involved because of that.

One thing about this series that amuses me is that those who are supposed to be investigating know they shouldn’t let Suzanne stick her nose in but they also recognize the futility of such a lofty goal, especially since she’s engaged to the doctor who’s called to the scene. Sheriff Doogie won’t actually volunteer information if he can help it but he doesn’t try awfully hard to keep her out of it so Suzanne sets out to snoop, aided and abetted by Toni and Petra.

Unfortunately, life goes on for all (except poor Mike) and sleuthing has to be crammed into a busy schedule of Halloween festivities, afternoon teas, a pizza party and planning for the big wedding Sam has in mind. Suzanne soon discovers that potential motives and suspects abound including a teen with odd behavior and an overly protective mother, a land developer and the local drug trade but it’s Suzanne herself who makes a really bad move.

As with nearly all cozies, our intrepid sleuth does some things that make me shake my head in dismay and her cohorts act a bit more clueless than they should but I really enjoy the folks of Kindred. Egg Drop Dead proved to be as entertaining as I’ve come to expect in this series and the included recipes sound just plain scrumptious. I think I’ll be trying Suzanne’s Chicken Pickin’ Stir-Fry first 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs
, just
leave a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Monday night,
January 23rd. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere

A Disguise to Die ForA Disguise to Die For
A Costume Shop Mystery #1
Diane Vallere
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-425-27828-4
Mass Market Paperback

When Margo Tamblyn’s father has a heart attack, she returns to Prosper City, Nevada to help out in her dad’s costume shop. The shop has the intriguing name of Disguise DeLimit. In fact, the whole fictional town is filled with shops with imaginative names.

Raised by Ebony Welles and her father, Jerry, Margo is tremendously loyal to Ebony. When Ebony, a party planner, is framed for the murder of a wealthy client, Margo takes a hand to clear her friend’s name. Along the way, she meets old friends, finds a prospective love interest, and almost gets herself killed.

There’s never a dull moment in the story. I found the background of the costume business interesting, as dressing up as someone else is something I’ve never done. Sounds like fun. I liked the characters, and even the murderer, whom I did guess, was more likable than some of the others. It all worked out well, in my opinion.

By the end, Margo will take over the family business, leading the reader into another Margo Tamblyn story, which, from the teaser, sounds just as good as this one. I hope we’ll find some of the same characters.

The book also gives us a few recipes, as well as a list of costume ideas. Get ready for Halloween–or any other time you feel like throwing a dress-up party.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Scorched Eggs by Laura Childs

Scorched EggsScorched Eggs
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #6
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25559-9
Hardcover

A trio of likable characters—Suzanne, Toni,, and Petra– own the Cackleberry Club, a café in the small town of Kindred. While Suzanne is sitting in her red plastic chair getting her hair dyed Blond Bombshell No. 4, the county social services building next door goes up in flames. She watches, horrified, while the lifeless body of longtime county employee Hannah Venable is carried out. Sheriff Doogie lets it slip that the fire chief believes that the fire was intentionally set.

Suzanne and her friends investigate the crime. They can’t believe someone would have wanted Hannah dead, but realize that the arsonist must be someone they know. While they are investigating, they are committed to help with the wedding of Kit Kaslik, former exotic dancer and sometime Cackleberry employee who is marrying her fiancé Ricky Wilcox, due to be sent to Afghanistan.

Suspects are plentiful, and include Marty Wolfson, an angry man whose wife was rescued from the fire, Jack Venable, the husband of the victim, and Darrel Fuhrman, recently let go from the fire department. But at the wedding service of Kit and Ricky, the town is shocked by the arrest of the groom before he’s had a chance to say “I do.”

Childs includes all the elements that epitomize a cozy mystery—the small town setting, a cast of interesting characters, and a plot that can sustain interest throughout the book. Suzanne, a widow in her forties who has just started to date again, uses her skills and knowledge to help find the killer.

This is sixth in the Cackleberry Club mysteries. The author also writes the Tea Shop mysteries and the Scrapbooking mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Review: Plot Boiler by Ali Brandon

Plot BoilerPlot Boiler
A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery #5
Ali Brandon
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26155-2
Mass Market Paperback

Even though he’s willful and contrary and seems convinced that he, not Darla Pettistone, owns Pettistone’s Rare Books, cat Hamlet is a treasured member of the bookshop gang, along with retired Professor and rare book expert James T. James and goth Robert, barista in Darla’s new coffee bar. It’s July, and Darla and her Brooklyn business neighbors are hosting a Fourth of July block party with music and dancers and Martial Arts demonstrations and booths. Almost everyone is enthusiastic. Only George, who is convinced that Darla opened her coffee bar to drive his coffee-shop out of business, is dragging his feet. As the heat and the problems build up, Darla works to keep the party going. Then Hamlet finds a body in George’s shop.

There are plenty of suspects and lots of interesting incidents. I enjoyed the camaraderie between Darla and her friends, and followed her sleuthing with enthusiasm. And Hamlet was his infuriating, adorable self. Long may his plumy tail wave.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

Book Review: Ghost in the Wind by E.J. Copperman

Ghost in the WindGhost in the Wind
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2015
ISBN: 978-0-425-26927-5
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the 7th and newest in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison Kerby, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore [which she describes as ‘a charming but somewhat rickety Victorian’ into which she has sunk ‘every last dime I had’], inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, Melissa, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, who had died at 28, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father.  (At Paul’s urging, Alison is now a licensed private investigator.)  It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts.  She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’

Alison is taken aback, to understate the case, when she is asked by a new ghost in the house, a man/musician who has been her idol for decades, and who I suspect may be the fictional reincarnation of one of the Beatles, who I also suspect has held that position in the author’s life (he is here called Vance McTiernan, ‘lead singer and songwriter of the Jingles,’) who tasks Alison with finding out who murdered his daughter, who died a few months before from an allergic reaction to food she had ingested.  Although there was a suspicion that it was suicide, he is convinced she was murdered.  Alison and her ghostly cohorts take up the investigation, made more difficult since many if not most of the people who might have killed the girl were presently dead.

There is a second ‘job’ that Alison works on when she has a spare minute, and that is discovering the whereabouts of a ‘short blond guy named Lester from Topeka, Kansas,’ at the behest of a rather strange woman pulling a wagon who turns up from time to time.

The writing is terrific, just what one needs in these days of fictional and real-life horrors, and I read the book over a span of a couple of days, all of it with at least a smile on my face or laughing out loud.  The book is well-plotted and the characters, alive or otherwise, thoroughly engaging (even the ones who try Alison’s, and perhaps the reader’s, patience).

As I’ve said before, my preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended, and this one is no exception.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2015.

Book Review: Devonshire Scream by Laura Childs—and a Giveaway!

Devonshire ScreamDevonshire Scream
A Tea Shop Mystery #17
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28166-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Catering a high-class trunk show at Heart’s Desire Jewelry is a shining achievement for Theodosia and the Indigo Tea Shop. After all, a slew of jewelers, museums, and private collectors will be there to showcase their wares and sip some of Theo’s best blends. But just as Theo settles in to enjoy the fruits of her labor, the party is crashed by a gang of masked muggers who steal the precious gems and jewels on display. The thieves disappear almost as quickly as they arrived, leaving shattered glass, scattered gemstones, and a dead body in their wake. 
 
Although the last thing Theo wants is to get involved, she can’t help but intercede when her dear friend Brooke, aunt of the victim and owner of Heart’s Desire, begs for help in figuring out who committed the brutal burglary. Though the FBI believes this daring “smash and grab” is the work of an international gang of jewel thieves, Theo is convinced that the felon is someone much closer to home…

Right off the bat, let me just say I love this cover. It’s so…so cozy 😉 Seriously, though, the combination of colors was just the thing to bring spring to my mind and I send kudos to designer Lesley Worrell and artist Stephanie Henderson.

Laura Childs juggles three longrunning series and I have endless admiration for her ability to do that and do it well. I enjoy them all but, of the three, I like the Tea Shop series the best. (By the way, she’ll be debuting a fourth series in July and there’s a preview at the back of this book. That one’s definitely not cozy so she’ll be using her real name, Gerry Schmitt, and I can barely stand the wait.) Anyway, there are a lot of reasons this series strikes a chord with me—I love tea of all sorts, Charleston is one of my favorite cities, the included recipes always sound and are scrumptious and the main character is a woman I can relate to.

Theo has a lot going for her in her personal life and in her shop and catering a high-end jewelry show is sort of the icing on the cake. When violent thieves strike, Theo is as confused and frightened as everyone else but she quickly gathers herself together and does what an experienced amateur sleuth should do, taking charge until the police and ambulances arrive and trying to keep people calm. When the first responders get there, Theo sets right in to help wherever she’s needed and it’s this kind of behavior that makes me like Theo so much.

This is, however, a cozy and, as we all know, that means our intrepid sleuth needs must do some sleuthing. In this case, Theo is reluctant to meddle as the curmudgeonly “real” Detective Burt Tidwell would call it but her friend Brooke, owner of the jewelry shop and aunt of the dead girl, makes it impossible to refuse her pleas. She soon finds herself involved with not only the local police (Tidwell knows it’s in his best interest to share information with Theo because of previous cases) but also a pair of FBI agents and they all have a lot to do to solve this case and prevent another heist, that of a Fabergé egg that’s on its way to town.

Amongst all the snooping…er, detecting…we’re given a good look at the inner workings of a tea shop in Charleston and I always love this part. It’s a curious blend of murder, mayhem and the tranquility that goes along with such an oasis of gentility and peace, a blend that’s hard to beat, and it’s extra fun to watch Burt Tidwell become a marshmallow when confronted with delectable scones and tea. I think I would enjoy having a cup with Burt at the Indigo Tea Shop and I’m definitely going to have to try the recipes for Drayton’s Devonshire Cream and Haley’s Beef Stroganoff 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Devonshire Scream,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn Sunday evening,
March 13
th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US.

Book Reviews: Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers and World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Death Takes PriorityDeath Takes Priority
A Postmistress Mystery #1
Jean Flowers
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-27910-6
Mass Market Paperback

One of my dearest friends works for the Post Office, so I was pleased to find this book about Cassie Millar, who trades life as a manager in the Boston Post Office for a job as postmistress in her small hometown in the Berkshires.  Cassie’s been away for a long time, so she’s only gradually finding old friends and making new ones.  She loves her new job, though, until the day she unlocks the door and finds that someone has stolen several stacks of phone books.  Why?

Then a body turns up in the nearby woods, and Cassie’s lunch date, a handsome antiques dealer, is arrested.  Concerned for her new friend, Cassie starts asking questions.  She finds answers, new friends and some very dangerous people before she’s done.

I enjoyed spending time with Cassie and learning about the workings of a small town post office and will certainly buy the next book.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

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World Gone ByWorld Gone By
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow Paperbacks, January 2016
ISBN: 978-006-235181-4
Trade Paperback

The life Joe Coughlin has lived began in The Given Day as a young man rebelling against his stern police captain father in Boston, and continued in Live By Night as he turned to a life of crime, rising in the ranks to run the rackets in Florida and elsewhere.  Now, World Gone By brings the story to a conclusion.

This segment takes place around the time the United States entered World War II and takes a deep look at Joe’s machinations as he operates between the various elements of society, government and the disparate areas of their less reputable members with whom he comes into contact.  At the same time, we see Joe as a doting father of a motherless son, having lost his Cuban wife in a horrible murder at the end of the last novel.

For all his money and power, the fear of death always pervades a gangster’s life, and the plot has Joe learning that a contract has been taken out on his life, his murder scheduled for Ash Wednesday, less than a week away.  The steps Joe takes to learn of the plot and what to do about it has ramifications for the remainder of the story, which is as about well-written and -plotted as anything recently read.

This novel, as the entire trilogy, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2016.