Book Review: Cherry Pies and Deadly Lies by Darci Hannah

Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies
A Very Cherry Mystery #1
Darci Hannah
Midnight Ink, June 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5780-3
Trade Paperback

This is the first book in a new series and for me it will be the last.  In Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies we meet Whitney Bloom, daughter of parents who own a cherry orchard and an inn in Cherry Cove, Wisconsin.  Whitney was recently fired from an ad agency in Chicago for producing a Super Bowl ad for a feminine hygiene product that ruined the manufacturer’s reputation, though the client actually approved the ad.  Desperate to make ends meet, Whitney started baking cherry pies and selling them via mail order in her business that she named Bloom ‘n Cherries!

However, following a phone call from her mother who told her that their old family friend and orchard manager had been murdered and Whitney’s father was the main suspect, Whitney decides to return home to help her parents.  Upon arrival she discovers that Jack MacLaren, her high school classmate is the detective assigned to the case and she, of course, decides he needs her help to find the murderer.  Although Jack doesn’t want her help, he grudgingly allows her to accompany him to the autopsy and gives her some information about the murder that he insists she swear not to divulge to anyone.

Immediately upon returning to her parents’ inn Whitney immediately blabs the information she swore not to repeat to her parents, her grandmother, and her two best friends.  And that is where this book lost me, but Whitney continues to blunder on, repeatedly putting her life in danger (TSTL anyone?), until she thinks she has nearly solved the murder – and then there is what appears to be another attempted murder.  As you have probably guessed, I can’t recommend this book but if you want a quick and light summer read, this might be for you.  By the way, the cherry pie and pot pie recipes at the end are nice.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2020.

Book Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke @JoanneFluke @KensingtonBooks

Coconut Layer Cake Murder
A Hannah Swensen Mystery #25
Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1889-1
Hardcover

The population of Eden Lake, Minnesota, is probably the most cookie-eating population in the country. It’s because baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, gives everyone she comes in contact with cookies.  Butterscotch and Pretzel Cookies, Confetti Blizzard Whippersnapper cookies, Strawberry and Vanilla Pinwheel Cookies—you name it. In the latest book of this long running series, Hannah and her mother travel to California to help a friend pack for a cross country move and to fit in a little sightseeing.

A panicked phone call from her younger sister brings Hannah back to Minnesota. Sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, a deputy, is the top suspect in the murder of a friend, Darcy. Darcy had been at a bar and had been drinking too much, and Lonnie drove her home. When he was in her house, making sure she got in safely, he passed out and when he awoke next morning, she was dead. Hannah investigates, with plates of Snowflake and Ice Cookies in hand, interviewing witnesses and suspects.

Readers who like recipes with their mysteries, and who haven’t discovered the delights of Eden Lake, will be pleased to discover this series. With twenty-five books now in the series, there are a lot of mysteries to be solved, and many recipes to be tried. Recipes have detailed instructions, so even the most inexperienced cook will not be intimidated.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

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 from Scratch by Leslie Karst

Murder from Scratch
A Sally Solari Mystery #4
Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-68331-953-5
Hard Cover

Murder from Scratch is the fourth in Leslie Karst’s Sally Solari mystery series.  As many of you may know, Sally is a chef-owner of a high end popular restaurant Gauguin.  However, lately she has been having problems with her staff, including her cook.  Feeling like she just can’t deal with any more problems, Sally hears from her father that her cousin Evelyn’s mother has recently died and Evelyn, who is blind, needs a place to stay for a while.  By this Sally’s father means that Evelyn should stay with Sally.  Grudgingly, Sally agrees.  But, as it turns out, Sally and Evelyn are kindred spirits.  Evelyn is an excellent cook and teaches Sally’s chef a new recipe or two and she is fun to be around.  Also, to Sally’s surprise, Evelyn can navigate around very well and with minimal help using her white cane.  In fact, when they go to the house Evelyn shared with her mother to get some belongings Evelyn needs, she discovers some things are not in their usual places.  Like most blind people, Evelyn and her mother kept things in their home in the same place at all times so that Evelyn could find them.  Discovering that things had been moved was very disconcerting and supported Evelyn’s belief that her mother had not overdosed on her own but that someone murdered her.

Anxious to find out what really happened, Evelyn and Sally begin to investigate which has its difficult moments particularly since they are two women trying to get information from fellow chefs in a competitive and male-dominated field.  But, unwilling to give up, they push on putting themselves in danger from someone who is determined not to be discovered and willing to do anything to make sure Sally and Evelyn do not succeed.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2019.

Book Review: Cozy Food edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis—and a Giveaway!

Cozy Food
Edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis
Good Read Publishers, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9835891-7-4
Trade Paperback

Cozy Food is a collection of favorite recipes from 128 (!) cozy mystery authors along with a section giving information about the authors and their books (as of 2014). The recipes are as varied and interesting as the authors and, while I’m not heavy-duty into cooking, I did try a few of them and they turned out to be as good as they sounded. Besides all the dishes for me and my family, I think I might try the pet food recipes for my kitties and granddog and grandkitty. This is a great way to find some new authors and some new food.

Mel’s Texas BBQ Mop Sauce by Sparkle Abbey is high on my list to try and I actually have every ingredient on hand except celery which I wouldn’t put in anyway 😉

Chickapoo’s Peanut Butter Treats from Marian Allen is one of the easiest recipes in the book and is OMG good.

Suzanne Young offers a quick Edna’s Easy Herb Spread with enough herb options to keep me taste-testing for a long time—because somebody has to do it, you know—and it’s equally good as a potato chip dip.

There are so many scrumptious recipes in this cookbook, they’ll keep you busy for a long, long time but never fear; if you find yourself just wanting to kick back with a delicious libation at the end of the day, you can hoist Sandra Balzo’s Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini while you check out some of the authors that are new to your list of must-reads.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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To enter the drawing for my very, very
gently used copy of Cozy Food, just
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Thursday
evening, May 3rd, and the drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

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 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.