Book Review: Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs @BerkleyMystery

Eggs on Ice
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #8
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-425-28172-7
Hardcover

Eggs on Ice is the eighth in Laura Childs’ Cackleberry Club Mysteries so for those of you who are fans of this series the characters will be familiar.  For those of you who are new to the series I think you’ll catch up quickly.  The main character is Suzanne Dietz, one of the co-owners of the Cackleberry Club and an amateur investigator.  As the story begins, Suzanne and one of her co-owners, Toni, are helping with costumes, sets, and lighting for their neighbors who are rehearsing for a production of “A Christmas Carol”.  The rehearsal comes to an abrupt halt when lawyer Allan Sharp who is playing Scrooge is murdered by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Suzanne chases the Ghost but stops when he, she, or it turns on her and threatens her with a knife.

The investigation is complicated by the fact that no one liked Allan except his law partner, but the investigation quickly focuses in on Amber, a woman who worked for Allan for a short while but quit when he sexually harassed her.  Amber and Suzanne have a mutual friend and that friend suggested Amber ask Suzanne for help.  However, it soon becomes clear that Amber has a motive for killing Allan but so do several others and narrowing the suspect field is more difficult than Suzanne anticipated.  Enlisting Toni’s help, Suzanne begins her own investigation much to the annoyance of the Sheriff and the fears of her fiancé, a doctor at the local hospital.

Eggs on Ice is a cozy mystery with well-drawn characters and a couple of nice twists.  It’s set during the holiday season and the cold and snow might be just what you need when our sweltering August/early September heat and humidity return.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

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.

Book Reviews: Mightier than the Sword by K. J. Parker and Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe by Judy Alter

Mightier Than the Sword
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-59606-817-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An Imperial legate is called in to see his aunt, who just happens to be the empress running the civilized world while her husband’s in his sick bed. After some chastisement, she dispatches her nephew to take care of the dreaded Land and Sea Raiders, pirates who’ve been attacking the realm’s monasteries.

So begins a possibly doomed tour of banished relatives and pompous royals put in charge of monasteries like Cort Doce and Cort Malestan, to name a few. While attempting to discover the truth of what the pirates might be after, the legate visits great libraries and halls in each varied locale and conducts a romance of which he knows but doesn’t care his aunt will not approve.

With enough wit and derring-do (and luck), the narrator might just make it through his mission alive…or will he?

Mightier than the Sword is a sort of Canterbury Tale-like retelling of “Concerning the Monasteries”, the personal document of the narrator that relates how he traveled  in search of the pirates who were attacking and pillaging monasteries throughout the Empire of the Robur in medieval times.  Our somewhat reluctant hero is the nephew of Empress Eudoxia Honoria Augusta and, along the way, he spends time with his aunt’s best friend, Svangerd, Abbess of Cort Doce, and his own best friend, Stachel, Abbot of Cort Sambic as well as others before discovering the truths behind the raids.

What ends with a number of surprises is mostly a pleasant story with interludes of off-scene violence at a handful of monasteries. The surprises, though, turn everything topsy-turvy but what happens to, and because of, our narrator are what had to be to complete the story and his destiny.

K. J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, used for his fantasy writings. I first read Holt‘s many novels that are a wacky sort of science fiction and fantasy blend chock full of humor and satire and loved them so much that, when the bookstore was open, I had an account with a British book wholesaler just so we could stock his books (and a few others). The man makes me laugh out loud so I was not surprised to see hints of his comical side in Mightier than the Sword like this exchange:

“Rabanus isn’t a Mesoge name. What do they call you back home?”

He grinned. “I’m Hrafn son of Sighvat son of Thiudrek from Gjaudarsond in Laxeydardal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll call you Rabanus.”

Although I don’t read a lot of high fantasy, this novella called to me because of the author but it also sounded like just the sort of thing to while away a couple of hours and, besides, how could I resist a tale that has so much to do with books? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #1
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9960131-6-1
Ebook

From the author—

Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

Note: I read the digital copy of an old paperback edition that’s out of print but it appears the ebook listed above, with the same 2013 copyright date, is unchanged with the possible exception of some minor editing.

Judy Alter has written a ton of books including mysteries in three series and, when she wrote this one in 2013, it was the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series. Now, there are three books and it’s my own fault I lollygagged around for so long and have just now read this.

When Kate’s grandmother dies, she decides to leave her job as a paralegal—and an uncomfortable situation—and run Gram’s cafe but her twin, Donna, has her sights set on opening a bed and breakfast. That’s a good thing because the sisters are not at all alike and working closely together could be disastrous but it also adds to Kate’s growing suspicions about what really happened to Gram. Surely Donna didn’t do anything she shouldn’t, right?

Still, Donna’s attitude towards her life and family, her greed and her unrealistic ambitions are only part of Kate’s unease and Gram whispering in her head is unsettling at first until Kate begins to appreciate it. Is it possible that someone might have poisoned her? Then, when Donna is suspected of murdering her new B&B partner, all bets are off and Kate’s paralegal instincts kick in.

Now that I’ve met Kate and the people of Wheeler, I’d like to know more so I think I’ll pick up the second book as soon as I have a chance. Ms. Alter puts together a good mystery and I’m ready to see what’s happened with these folks and this little town while I’ve been dawdling 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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
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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: Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Second Helpings at the Serve You Right CafeSecond Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
Linden Tree Press, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-9898601-6-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What if the world didn’t want you to go straight? Out on parole after almost ten years in prison, Emet First is repairing his shattered life. He has friends, a job, and his first date in a decade. The young woman, Mercedes Finch, is lovely but wounded. When her deranged brother learns about Emet’s past, he will stop at nothing to destroy him–and suddenly Emet has everything to lose.

It’s impossible to say what I love most about this book—the characters, the book cover, the setting, the story, the author’s writing—so I’ll say this: Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe is a charming, delightful tale of what I call comfort fiction and the author gave me a few short hours of escape at a time when I really need it. The title is pretty close to perfect also as it alludes to the second chances people sometimes need and there are several characters in this story that do indeed get those second chances. What they do with them is another facet of the tale.

I occasionally have a coffee date with a friend (one of my volunteer reviewers, actually) and I SO wish this cafe was real and existed right here in our town. It’s a wonderful spot for all sorts of people and Eden Rose is the kind of proprietor who can make even a curmudgeon feel welcome. Her willingness to hire an ex-con fits right in with her personality and yet she shouldn’t be mistaken for a patsy. This is a woman who cares about people and takes steps to make their lives better. A case in point is a couple who act as her taste testers, a small part of the story that’s quite endearing.

It’s largely because of Eden Rose’s support of Emet, as well as his own sense of honesty and humility, that gives him the nerve to ask Mercey out on a date and what happens after he tells her the truth about himself is all about whether or not they can make things work. Cheering them on from the sidelines, I thoroughly enjoyed going along for the ride. Thank you, Ms. Jacobs 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.