Book Review: Saving Irene by Judy Alter @JudyAlter

Saving Irene
A Culinary Mystery
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, September 2020
ISBN 978-0-9969935-6-2
Trade Paperback

Billed as a culinary mystery and set in Chicago, Saving Irene introduces us to Henny James whose job is to prepare ingredients for chef Irene Foxglove’s regional television cooking show.  Irene fancies herself a French chef trained at the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris but Henny doubts that.  Rather, she is convinced that Irene learned her cooking skills at a local junior college.  Nonetheless, Irene is the star and Henny the assistant.  Irene is married to Howard who is very protective, perhaps overly so, of Irene and since she has received at least one threatening letter Howard asks Henny to keep an eye on Irene and help protect her at work.  For me, this is a problem with this book’s premise for Henny is no more equipped to protect Irene than Irene’s daughter, the haughty and sullen Gabrielle is.  Nevertheless, Henny agrees to do so – at what cost to herself remains to be seen.

When Howard dies suddenly in what appears to be an accident Henny realizes that his protectiveness of Irene was perhaps not unwarranted, and it now falls to her to take on that job.  In the meantime, Irene’s publicist, Penny, is, on the one hand, urging Irene to write a cookbook while on the other scheming to advance another chef over Irene.  When Penny is eventually fired by Henny, upon whom Irene has come to depend for nearly everything, Penny’s determination to ruin Irene goes into high gear.

Meanwhile, Henny has become fast friends with her neighbor the handsome, helpful, and accommodating Patrick.  While Henny would love to become much closer to him, there is a problem – Patrick is gay – or at least so he seems but he is the nicest guy Henny has ever known.  And then, as if there isn’t enough going on, Gabrielle disappears without a word or a trace.

A lot of people on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites loved this book.  I cannot go quite that far.  It does have interesting characters and it is well written.  But I could not quite suspend my disbelief enough to see Henny as a protector of the annoying, demanding, and often insulting Irene.  That said, I think this book would be a quick and fun read for the beach or sitting on the porch for an afternoon.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, May 2021.

Book Review: Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut by Sarah Graves @SarahGraves2011 @KensingtonBooks

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut
A Death by Chocolate Mystery #3
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1134-2
Hardcover

There are more than 4,000 islands off the coast of Maine; in fact, there are more islands in the Gulf of Maine than on the entire East Coast of the United States.  Pirates have been known to Maine’s shores since Dixie Bull (nicknamed “The Dread Pirate”), an Englishman, operated in Maine waters in 1632.  The other pirate most associated with Maine was Black Sam Bellamy in the early 1800s.  So, why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s because Sarah Graves’ latest book, Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut, set in Eastport, Maine, takes place with a Pirate Festival as its backdrop.  And the real town of Eastport, Maine, really does hold a Pirate Festival every September.

So, Jake and Ellie, her best friend and business partner in their bakery, The Chocolate Moose are baking up a storm anticipating crowds of hungry tourists (and locals) from the festival.  Approached by a celebrity foodie, Henry Hadlyme, who wants to film a podcast episode in their bakery, Jake and Ellie decline because he is obnoxious and has not had a good word to say about Eastport eateries so far so why take the chance that he will bad mouth their bakery too?  Henry becomes angry and insistent and Jake tells him in no uncertain terms not to come back or something bad might happen to him.  Unfortunately, Henry is later found dead in the basement of The Chocolate Moose and when the state police arrive to investigate, Jake becomes the prime suspect.  Only an intervention by Bob Arnold, Eastport’s police chief and a friend of Jake and Ellie, keeps Jake out of jail.  Obviously, Jake and Ellie have to find the murderer to get Jake off the hook before she is arrested.  The investigation they undertake has points to several people with possible motives and takes some unexpected twists and turns, not to mention involving others who are also at risk – enough, I think, to add up to an interesting and not obvious resolution.

For anyone who is not familiar with Sarah Graves’ work, she has a 16-book series, “Home Repair is Homicide” in which Jake, a transplanted New Yorker, and Ellie, a native Mainer, solve mysteries while Jake works on restoring her old house.  The author also has a newer series (2 books so far) featuring Lizzie Snow, a police chief who moves to Maine to try and solve what happened to her murdered sister and the disappearance of her sister’s daughter.  I love Sarah Graves’ work and hope she writes many, many more books.  To quote Margaret Maron, “Sarah Graves writes with grace and intelligence….”  I could not agree more, and I can’t wait for the next book, Death by Chocolate Snickerdoodle, due out in 2021.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2020.

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.