Book Review: A Deadly Eclair by Daryl Wood Gerber—and a Giveaway!

A Deadly Eclair
A French Bistro Mystery #1
Daryl Wood Gerber
Crooked Lane Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-341-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s always been Mimi Rousseau’s dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she’s been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband’s tremendous debt. Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects. Now, working the bistro and inn until she’s able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn’s first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan’s half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue. Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners’ dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again. That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan’s will.

An interesting thing occurred to me while I was reading this cozy—the main characters were not always very likeable, or relatable for that matter, but it didn’t really matter all that much. In fact, I’m usually bothered by a very large cast but not this time because Ms. Gerber makes them all so individualistic and memorable.

Most satisfying to me, the protagonist, Mimi Rousseau, has a very legitimate reason to do her own investigating because she’s been pegged as a prime suspect. That’s what happens when the death of a murder victim benefits one person in such a generous fashion. Mimi is a smart lady, not inclined towards putting herself in jeopardy (which I appreciate greatly) and a wedding party full of hostile relatives of both the bride and groom gives her a plethora of potential killers to check out. That’s the trouble, actually—too many possibilities send Mimi and the reader in so many directions that solving Bryan’s murder becomes something like wading through a bog but Mimi finally gets to the other side. As for me, I was kept guessing almost to the denouement, mainly because I kept changing my mind.

This author clearly has a sure hand with whodunnits. I haven’t read any of Ms. Gerber‘s earlier work and there’s a lot of it but, if A Deadly Eclair is any indication, I think I need to start reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of A Deadly Eclair by Daryl Wood
Gerber, leave
a comment below. One
winning name will
be drawn Friday
evening, November 24th. This drawing
is o
pen to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Death Overdue by Allison Brook

Death Overdue
A Haunted Library Mystery #1
Allison Brook
Crooked Lane Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-386-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Carrie Singleton is just about done with Clover Ridge, Connecticut until she’s offered a job as the head of programs and events at the spooky local library, complete with its own librarian ghost. Her first major event is a program presented by a retired homicide detective, Al Buckley, who claims he knows who murdered Laura Foster, a much-loved part-time library aide who was bludgeoned to death fifteen years earlier. As he invites members of the audience to share stories about Laura, he suddenly keels over and dies.

The medical examiner reveals that poison is what did him in and Carrie feels responsible for having surged forward with the program despite pushback from her director. Driven by guilt, Carrie’s determined to discover who murdered the detective, convinced it’s the same man who killed Laura all those years ago. Luckily for Carrie, she has a friendly, knowledgeable ghost by her side. But as she questions the shadows surrounding Laura’s case, disturbing secrets come to light and with each step Carrie takes, she gets closer to ending up like Al.

Carrie has itchy feet, never staying in one town very long, and she’s just about ready to take a hike again when the library director in Clover Ridge offers her a full-time position to head up programs and events. Her immediate reaction is that she doesn’t want to be tied down but a ghostly voice in her ear prompts her to at least ask for details. When Evelyn Havers reveals herself to Carrie, it’s all Carrie can do to not freak out but she’s really distracted by the frightening idea of actually settling down.

So, when Carrie decides to stay in town and accept the job, she jumps in with enthusiasm, taking on the position’s pleasures as well as its normal glitches plus some pointed small acts of sabotage by the woman who wanted the job. Carrie finds a way, with Evelyn’s help, to get Dorothy to stop and peace descends on the library, at least momentarily, until guest speaker Al Buckley, a former police detective, drops dead during a presentation regarding new evidence in the cold case murder of Laura Foster fifteen years earlier. Carrie immediately suspects foul play, contrary to her boss’s belief, but it’s days later before the police say that Al was poisoned.

As with many cozies, Carrie really hasn’t got any valid reason to investigate but that’s OK with me. I enjoyed going along as she followed one clue after another to finally get to the truth and she’s smarter than many amateur sleuths, avoiding the TSTL syndrome although she does suffer from running her mouth too much 😉 A plethora of potential murderers keep her busy as does a bit of romance but even that has its own surprises. Speaking of surprises, I was more than a little bemused by Carrie’s reaction to having a ghost in her life.

With Halloween right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better for this supernatural cozy and, while Carrie can be abysmally self-absorbed and downright immature, I do like her and I adore Evelyn. The icing on the cake is the library setting, my second favorite book-related backdrop, and Carrie is actually a pretty good sleuth with this first case…or, two cases, in reality. I’m going to be eagerly awaiting the next adventure hoping especially to spend much more time with Evelyn.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

Book Review: Edited Out by E.J. Copperman

Edited Out
A Mysterious Detective Mystery #2
E.J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6295-3599-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rachel Goldman is getting used to the idea that her fictional creation, Duffy Madison, has somehow taken flesh-and-blood form and is investigating missing person cases not far from where Rachel lives. Wait. No. She’s not getting used to it at all, and the presence of this real-life Duffy is making her current manuscript – what’s the word?  – – lousy.  So she doesn’t want to see Duffy – the living one – at all.  To make matters worse, when he shows up at her door and insists on talking to her, it’s about the one thing she doesn’t want to do:  find a missing person.  But the man Duffy seeks this time around might be able to solve Rachel’s problem.  He might just be the man Duffy was before he became Duffy five years ago.  The only problem is she could be letting Duffy lead her into danger yet again.

This is the second in a new series by E.J. Copperman, which finds author Rachel Goldman working, with some difficulty, on the next book in her Duffy Madison series, due to her publisher in three months.  Duffy is the consultant to the county prosecutor’s office, whose forte is finding missing persons.  Thinking back on the origin of her fictional character, she ruminates that she flashed on the idea of a consultant to the police, a very specific kind of genius who would be able to find lost things and, more important, lost people when the authorities could not.  It is now 6 months since a man had called Rachel “claiming to be the living incarnation of my fictional character.  He called himself Duffy Madison. .. . he believed I had actually created him four years earlier, because he had no memory of anything before that time.”  She speaks of him as “the raving lunatic who is using my character’s name and personality.”

Rachel is hard pressed to decide whether the man is insane, or if there is some other – or no – explanation as to his claims.  But after he had saved her life [in the events in the first book], she tries to give him some benefit of the doubt. This time their quest takes her from her home in Adamstown, New Jersey, to Poughkeepsie, New York [necessitating several trips across the barely passable Tappan Zee Bridge] where Duffy apparently went to high school, although proving that is difficult.  This time we learn a bit more about Rachel’s love life, such as it is.  Speaking of her invaluable assistant, she says “Paula dates more than I do, but then the pope probably dates more than I do.”

As I wrote in my review of the first book in the series (Written Off) this could only be an E.J. Copperman creation, as any reader of the author’s Asperger’s and Haunted Ghosthouse series can attest.  There is a mystery here, and quite creative and suspenseful it is, but the overriding aspect of this book is the author’s singular and trademark humor.  I can attest to the fact that every page, and nearly every sentence, of this delightful book is literally laugh-out-loud funny, and the smile almost never left my face for the two days it took me to read it.  As was the predecessor book, it is simply terrific, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2017.

Book Review: Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton

Kale to the Queen
A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery #1
Nell Hampton
Crooked Lane Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68331-104-1

The basic plot of Kale to the Queen is this. The protagonist, Carrie Ann Cole, has an incredible bit of luck and meets the Duchess of Windsor in New York. Because of this meeting, Carrie Ann is offered the position of personal chef for the royal family in Kensington Palace. When Carrie Ann arrives jet lagged, late and soaking wet from a down pour, she finds that she is in charge of  food for a children’s party that very day. So Carrie Ann is off and running in her new career without having time to catch a breath let alone settle in. Not the greatest of beginnings. Things get considerably worse when she finds one of her assistants dead in the kitchen green house and is questioned by the police. Because Carrie Ann is the protagonist, of course she starts nosing around the investigation and finds out some things that others would like to remain hidden. In the end, things work out for Carrie Ann and presumably we’ll see more of her each Spring for the foreseeable future. This is is a good thing. For while the book and Carrie Ann fall into some of the traps of cozy type mysteries, for the most part this is a solid first book leaving at least this reader wanting more.

Kale to the Queen is the first mystery the author  has written. This is an important point because there are a lot more things that can go wrong in writing mysteries versus other types of fiction. For the most part, Hampton was up to the task. In a mystery the characters, even the minor ones, need to be fairly well developed to make them believable as witnesses and potential suspects. This was done quite well. The plot needs clues for the readers to follow. The author needs to “play fair” with the readers. This was done well. Going right along with that, the plot needs some unexpected twists to keep the readers on their toes and again, this was done, though this could be improved on. Also there were red herrings, but not really enough to camouflage the solution. This left the reader with a good puzzle but  maybe not a great one to solve. Hopefully, now that Carrie Ann and the supporting cast are established, there will be more details to the mystery in following books. The one truly troublesome aspect of this book is that Carrie Ann falls into the “cozy mystery trap” of telling too much to too many people. Not only could this have gotten her hurt or possibly killed, in the real world would probably have resulted in her being fired. As for the standard elements of cozies, yes there are recipes, but just three and at the end of the book, not sprinkled throughout the story. I personally MUCH prefer the recipes at the end. No, Carrie Ann does not have a pet. Yes, there is a potential love interest-both a boyfriend left behind in Chicago and some potentials in England.

I assume I will not be the only reader who from the first page of the book looks for comparisons to Julie Hyzy’s delightful White House Chef books with Ollie Paras as the protagonist. And indeed, there are some easy comparisons to make. Both chefs cook in very high profile positions and are surrounded by tight security measures. Both have some issues with fellow staff members feeling like the chef is not quite up to the position-in Ollie’s case because she is a woman, in Carrie Ann’s case because she is an American. Both protagonists have high demand jobs so much of the action takes place in and around their jobs unlike many cozies where the protagonists seem to be free to treat their jobs more like hobbies than  professions. Also, both protagonists tend to rush into things and share information that perhaps should be given only to the police. By the end of the book though, Carrie Ann has established herself and her series. I look forward to reading many more adventures of Carrie Ann Cole.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: One By One by Sarah Cain

One By One
A Danny Ryan Mystery #2
Sarah Cain
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
978-1-68331-087-7
Hardcover

Danny Ryan, a Pulitizer prize winning journalist, is approached by a former high school classmate asking him to look into the strangely similar deaths of several others in their senior class. They all had received odd-ball texts spouting biblical verses and threats that seem to be a warning of some sort, Greg Moss tells Danny. Whatever, they all wound up dead. Now Greg is getting the texts, too, and so, very soon after starting his investigation, does Danny. He eventually realizes all the victims were guests at a drunken, drug-ridden end-of-school party. What happened there? Danny doesn’t know and the people who could tell him are either dead or soon will be.

With the help of a newspaper reporter, the smart and beautiful Alex Burton, Danny determines to get to the bottom of things before there’s another victim. Too late, because Greg dies. Is Danny next? Or will it be Alex, who isn’t a member of the class, but who is maybe too close to Danny.

All tied up in crooked land deals, grasping politicians and crooked cops, as well as at least one deranged former classmate, this is a well-plotted, hold-your-breath story of revenge and twisted motives that will keep you guessing.

The writing, as you would expect, is excellent. We’re given a diversified cast of characters, from which you’re sure to find someone to hate as well as a few to root for.

This is the second book of the Danny Ryan series, and I’m looking forward to the third.

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

Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, February 2017.