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.

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Book Review: Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs—and a Giveaway!

Plum Tea Crazy
A Tea Shop Mystery #19
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-451-48960-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

While viewing the harbor’s Gaslights and Galleons Parade from the widow’s walk of Timothy Neville’s Charleston mansion, local banker Carson Lanier seemingly tumbles over a narrow railing, then plunges three stories to his death. But a tragic accident becomes something much more sinister when it’s discovered that the victim was first shot with a bolt from a crossbow.

At the request of the mansion owner, Theodosia investigates the tragedy and is soon neck deep in suspects. An almost ex-wife, a coworker, a real estate partner–all had motives for killing the luckless banker, but one resorted to murder to settle accounts.

The prolific Laura Childs is back with another of her cozies I find so appealing, this one in the Tea Shop series. I think this is my favorite of her series…or at least I think so until a Scrapbooking or Cackleberry book comes out and then all bets are off. What I *do* know, with absolute certainty, is that I always welcome a new Laura Childs book.

The Indigo Tea Shop has to be one of the best settings for any reader who loves tea. Can’t you just imagine walking in and being surrounded by all those delightful tea aromas and colors not to mention all the scrumptious food that goes with a proper tea? Unfortunately, that peaceful ambience doesn’t extend to the Gaslights and Galleons Parade when Theodosia and her partner, Drayton, watch a man fall to his death from the very mansion where they’re viewing the festivities. When a small crowd reaches him, it’s Theodosia who discovers that Carson Lanier was shot, apparently with an arrow and, impetuously, Theodosia and Drayton race next door where she thought she saw a figure watching. Chasing the figure, Theodosia runs right into Detective Burt Tidwell.

Naturally, all is in good hands with the detective and life goes on in the tea shop, very briefly, until Timothy Neville, owner of the mansion where the dead man met his demise, comes by with a list of his guests and asks Theodosia to do her own investigating because, as he puts it, “she brings a different perspective to things”. Equally naturally, Theodosia and Drayton can’t resist, despite Tidwell’s somewhat disgusted reaction…but he recognizes that Theodosia has a certain affinity with one of his best detectives, Pete Riley, so Tidwell’s rejection of her involvement has an effect for no more than a few minutes.

Theodosia and Drayton are soon in the thick of things (as well as keeping up with all the neighborhood shopkeepers) and in hot pursuit of a likely suspect. Jud Harker. Will the killer turn out to be Jud or someone else with an entirely different motive?

As always, I was charmed by this entry in the Tea Shop series and had great fun following the clues along with these so-called amateur sleuths plus my mouth is watering over all the recipes. Book #20, Broken Bone China, can’t come fast enough 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs,
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday
evening, April 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles
A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery #1
A.L. Herbert
Kensington, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0502-0
Mass Market Paperback

Murder With Fried Chicken and Waffles was first released in 2015, but has been re-released this year in mass paperback form. I don’t know how I missed this book the first time around but I am glad I caught it now. The author, A.L. Herbert, has given readers a  mystery with a likable protagonist in Mahalia Watkins.

Halia, as she’s known to her friends, took a chance and opened an upscale restaurant serving soul food  in Prince George’s County Maryland. Being a life long resident of the county she wanted folks to be able to go out for a nice meal without having to drive into Washington. By all appearances, her gamble has paid off. Mahalia’s Sweet Tea is packed most days for both lunch and dinner. They come for the fried chicken and waffles, macaroni and cheese, corn casserole and airy light biscuits and stay for the banana pudding and red velvet cake. The fly in the ointment was that Mahalia had to borrow some money from one smooth talking Marcus Rand to open her restaurant. This leaves her at his beckoned call. So when Marcus comes by asking for special dinner items for his guests, no matter how inconvenient she feels she must oblige.

If only the special menu items were the only problems Marcus brought down on Mahalia’s Sweet Tea.  But sadly it isn’t. That fast talking smooth operator ended up dead on the kitchen floor of the restaurant apparently clunked on the head by one of Mahalia’s heavy duty cast iron skillets. If the body is found in the restaurant, the restaurant might be closed for days as a crime scene. And the customers! Would people still come to a place where a person was found murdered? On impulse, Mahalia and her cousin Wavonne lug the body outside and down the alley to behind the bookstore. Problem solved right? Wrong. From there the story takes off with plenty of twists and turns until Mahalia figures out who killed Marcus.

There are plenty of reasons to love this book. The protagonist, her cousin and mother are all very likable, well defined characters. The three of them make up a household that will resonate with some readers. In some families, adult children live with an aged parent to help out and for everyone to save money.  Mahalia is a strong, ambitious African American – a character mostly missing from the cozy genre. She runs a highly successful business but she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. She employs her less than reliable cousin Wavonne to help keep her on the straight and narrow. She chose to put her restaurant in her home community so the town could have something nice. Mahalia is a person of character.

The mystery – who killed Marcus, takes some interesting turns. Mahalia is perhaps a bit more vested in finding the killer than some because Wavonne acts impulsively and ends up as a suspect so Mahalia is trying to solve the case to get Wavonne off the hook. If I have any quibble at all with the book, it is that the author didn’t really give readers ample clues to solve the murder completely, but the end solution does make sense.

Cozies are often set around food establishments, but this is the first that I am aware of with soul food as the focus. I have to say, as a bit of a foodie, my mouth was watering reading the descriptions of the food. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book. I hadn’t even finished reading the book when I tried out the cornbread recipe and it is melt in your mouth good. The fried chicken has a surprising ingredient and the banana pudding has a different twist to it from what I have made before. Both are on my try list in the near future.

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles is a wonderful start to a series. I know there is a second book already out, and I hope there are many more to follow.

I received this book from the publisher for review.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

Book Review: February Fever by Jess Lourey

February Fever
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #10
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4214-4
Trade Paperback

February Fever finds librarian Mira James’s sizzling relationship with her boyfriend Johnny Leeson in jeopardy when Johnny gets a month long internship across the country. Because Jess is not wild about flying she figures the relationship will be on hold until Mrs. Berns comes to the rescue by suggesting the two of them travel cross-country via train. Sounds like a good idea until it turns out the train is a Valentine special for singles to meet. And then the train gets stuck in a snow storm. Those two things would be bad enough, but this is after all Mira and the series is called Murder by Month so of course Mira once again has a murder happen in her vicinity and Mira being Mira  is soon investigating.

Things to like about this book are that the main characters, or at least those on the trip, stay true to form. Once again, Ms. Lourey delivers a book that while very funny in some places isn’t quite your typical cozy. The plot is interesting, and while snowbound trains are not exactly new to the mystery genre, the author does it very well.

There are a couple of things about the series as a whole that rub me wrong. I hate the near slap stick comedy routines that show up throughout the series. In this book  Mira agrees to dance with a guy once, only one dance, but then trips and face plants into his crotch. This and things like it just add too much silliness to a book that doesn’t need it for laughs and in my opinion takes away from the good writing.

The other thing that I definitely did not like, nor I imagine will other readers who follow this series,

 

(semi spoiler alert)

is that the author kills off one of the regular characters. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, so I won’t say who or how, but this was a shocking development.

(end spoiler)

 

This is the tenth book in the series with March and April to go to finish the year of murders. Since this book came out in 2015, I’m not sure the series will wrap up or not. I hope so. In spite of a few quibbles, I enjoy visiting with Mira and the other characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

Book Review: Death and the Gravedigger’s Angel by Loretta Ross

Death and The Gravedigger’s Angel
An Auction Block Mystery #3
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5041-5
Trade Paperback

This is a wonderful, amusing and emotionally fraught novel. Like most of us, the characters are quirky, odd, some with skewed views of their world. When murder visits their community, their reactions are often unpredictable.

Start with the lead protagonist, a private detective in the community of East Bledsoe Ferry, Missouri. His name is Death Bogart. Yes, he of the title line for this series. His brother, a paramedic, is Randy. Death’s girl friend is Wren Morgan who is employed by a local auction house.

Immediately, readers will understand that the names of the characters play almost as important roles in the narrative as do the humans to which the individuals are attached. The dialogue ranges from testy to heartfelt and at times, sarcastic, but always appropriate. Readers will quickly become familiar with the connections between the characters.

Wren Morgan is an auctioneer. Part of her job entails cataloging and organizing estates contracted for sale by her employer. She’s anxious to start work at the late nineteenth century and long abandoned Hadleigh estate. Her work is delayed because the body of a man clad in a stolen Civil War uniform has been discovered on the property. Death Bogart gets involved when he’s asked to investigate the circumstances of the murder. Then things get complicated.

There are other elements that further complicate Wren’s and Death’s life. One is the leader of an out-of-ordinary religious cult who often argues with biblical references. The pastor doesn’t actually quote the bible, he quotes the book, chapter and verse. In one hilarious scene, Wren’s brother looks up the barked references and relays them verbally to his sister.

Ultimately the crimes are solved but not before a terrifying experience menaces Wren and Death solves the case of the mysterious dancing can. A most enjoyable reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Pressed to Death by Kirsten Weiss

Pressed to Death
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #2
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5031-6
Trade Paperback

Maddie Kosloski, the owner of the paranormal museum, displays items with a history, usually a bloody history, in her small shop that also sell ouija boards, spooky T-shirts, and other touristy stuff. Oddly enough, she seems to make a living at it, even as she participates in the celebrations and festivals in the California wine country where she lives. As this story opens, she is being accused of stealing an antique grape press–reportedly haunted–from a local winery. Thankfully, she has a receipt signed by the winery owner’s wife, but that doesn’t stop Detective Laurel Hammer’s accusations. Only because the Halloween/autumn festival is in the offing does Maddie escape arrest. Unfortunately, as she’s setting up the display for her paranormal museum, she stumbles upon the body of–who else–the man who owned the wine press.

Trouble, as you might expect, ensues.

Somehow, the Ladies Aid Society, a lively bunch of do-gooders with a lot of influence in the community, persuade Maddie to investigate the death, which of course, turns out to be murder. At the Ladies Aid forefront is Maddie’s own mother.

Maddie’s poking and prying manages to stir up a hornet’s nest, some of which puts her in a peck of trouble, not to mention danger. It takes a lot of help from her friends to put this haunting to rest. Worse, as Maddie’s investigation winds down, she discovers why the wine press is haunted. Should she tell? Because once revealed, an unhaunted wine press isn’t much of a draw to her museum.

I wouldn’t say as this is a strong mystery, but the writing is good, the characters are engaging, the setting is warm and friendly (hauntings aside) and the story, with all it’s twists and turns, has a really good cat character.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction by Amy Metz

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