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: A Bad Hair Day Cookbook by Nancy J. Cohen @nancyjcohen

A Bad Hair Day Cookbook
Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s Cozy Mystery Series
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-9997932-5-1
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Are you having a bad hair day? Whip out your whisk, snatch up your spoon, and prepare your palate. Inside the pages of this cookbook are recipes that will bring you good cheer.

Enjoy 160+ tasty recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s popular Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series. Included in this cookbook are excerpts, cooking tips, and anecdotes written by hairstylist and savvy sleuth Marla Vail. From appetizers to desserts, Marla offers cooking tips and tricks along with commentary about the dishes she prepares for her family. Whether you’re a skilled cook or an eager novice, this cookbook will unravel the mystery of cooking. Put on your apron and plan to make some killer recipes! Bonuses Include:

• Meet the Sleuth
• Introduction by Marla Vail
• Cooking Tips
• Excerpts from Series Titles
• Themed Menu Suggestions
• “A Sabbath Dinner” by Nancy’s Mother

For Home Cooks, Food Lovers, Mystery Fans and Cookbook Collectors

I can’t think of a better time to bring out a new cookbook than a food-centric holiday season, can you? Ms. Cohen‘s timing really is good for me as my daughter and I are about to celebrate our first Thanksgiving in our new-ish home in St. Augustine. I’ve been rummaging through her (Marla’s) recipes and I’ve found way too many to try all at once but there are a few that will be gracing our table this Thursday:

Garlic Cheese Biscuits—like Marla, we’re big fans of a certain restaurant chain’s biscuits and my mouth is already watering.

French Onion Soup—I’d be just as happy with Potato Leek Soup but Annie has a “thing” about leeks so French Onion it is (not that I’m complaining, mind you). I’ll make the Potato Leek Soup for myself another time 😉

Roast Turkey Breast With Herbs—well, duh! We’ll be doing the whole bird, though.

Sweet Potatoes w/Red Onions & Rosemary—this will be a tasty change from mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole

Apple Ginger Cake—this is totally new to me and I can’t wait to try it. The recipe includes lots of my favorite flavors and spices, like brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, apple, etc. Yum!

This cookbook is just chock full of recipes that sound delicious but, maybe more importantly, most of them seem really easy and they’re accompanied by comments from sleuth Marla. Try it, you’ll like it!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Book Review: Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz

Treble at the Jam Fest
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery #4
Leslie Budewitz
Midnight Ink, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5240-2
Trade Paperback

Jazz guitarist Gerry Martin, one of the headliners at the Jewel Bay, Montana, jazz festival, falls to his death from the rocks above the Jewel River. Local police call it an accident, that Martin slipped while out hiking, but Erin Murphy has her suspicions. Erin is manager of Murphy’s Mercantile, a general store in this food lovers’ town. There seems to be bad blood between Martin and Dave Barber, local musician who upstaged Martin in the concert on opening night. Newcomer Gabrielle Drake and her pushy stage mother also seem to have a problem with the headliner.

When Erin examines the crime scene, she notices a discarded coffee cup overlooked by the police, as well as the footprints left by the victim. Would Gerry Martin wear dress boots when setting out for a hike along rugged terrain? No, but he might if he was planning to meet someone.

Subplots and supporting characters surround Erin and her store—she hires a new salesperson, finally gets to meet her boyfriend’s best friend from childhood, and her mother has news of her own. Erin is more level -headed and believable than many of the protagonists in cozy mystery series, and Jewel Bay is a setting than carries the story along. Who wouldn’t like to visit a town with such a variety of restaurants, shops, and festivals, set in the natural beauty of Montana? Recipes are included, rhubarb fans will be especially pleased. This is the fourth book in the series, but it stands well on its own.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

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.

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

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 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: Devonshire Scream by Laura Childs—and a Giveaway!

Devonshire ScreamDevonshire Scream
A Tea Shop Mystery #17
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28166-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Catering a high-class trunk show at Heart’s Desire Jewelry is a shining achievement for Theodosia and the Indigo Tea Shop. After all, a slew of jewelers, museums, and private collectors will be there to showcase their wares and sip some of Theo’s best blends. But just as Theo settles in to enjoy the fruits of her labor, the party is crashed by a gang of masked muggers who steal the precious gems and jewels on display. The thieves disappear almost as quickly as they arrived, leaving shattered glass, scattered gemstones, and a dead body in their wake. 
 
Although the last thing Theo wants is to get involved, she can’t help but intercede when her dear friend Brooke, aunt of the victim and owner of Heart’s Desire, begs for help in figuring out who committed the brutal burglary. Though the FBI believes this daring “smash and grab” is the work of an international gang of jewel thieves, Theo is convinced that the felon is someone much closer to home…

Right off the bat, let me just say I love this cover. It’s so…so cozy 😉 Seriously, though, the combination of colors was just the thing to bring spring to my mind and I send kudos to designer Lesley Worrell and artist Stephanie Henderson.

Laura Childs juggles three longrunning series and I have endless admiration for her ability to do that and do it well. I enjoy them all but, of the three, I like the Tea Shop series the best. (By the way, she’ll be debuting a fourth series in July and there’s a preview at the back of this book. That one’s definitely not cozy so she’ll be using her real name, Gerry Schmitt, and I can barely stand the wait.) Anyway, there are a lot of reasons this series strikes a chord with me—I love tea of all sorts, Charleston is one of my favorite cities, the included recipes always sound and are scrumptious and the main character is a woman I can relate to.

Theo has a lot going for her in her personal life and in her shop and catering a high-end jewelry show is sort of the icing on the cake. When violent thieves strike, Theo is as confused and frightened as everyone else but she quickly gathers herself together and does what an experienced amateur sleuth should do, taking charge until the police and ambulances arrive and trying to keep people calm. When the first responders get there, Theo sets right in to help wherever she’s needed and it’s this kind of behavior that makes me like Theo so much.

This is, however, a cozy and, as we all know, that means our intrepid sleuth needs must do some sleuthing. In this case, Theo is reluctant to meddle as the curmudgeonly “real” Detective Burt Tidwell would call it but her friend Brooke, owner of the jewelry shop and aunt of the dead girl, makes it impossible to refuse her pleas. She soon finds herself involved with not only the local police (Tidwell knows it’s in his best interest to share information with Theo because of previous cases) but also a pair of FBI agents and they all have a lot to do to solve this case and prevent another heist, that of a Fabergé egg that’s on its way to town.

Amongst all the snooping…er, detecting…we’re given a good look at the inner workings of a tea shop in Charleston and I always love this part. It’s a curious blend of murder, mayhem and the tranquility that goes along with such an oasis of gentility and peace, a blend that’s hard to beat, and it’s extra fun to watch Burt Tidwell become a marshmallow when confronted with delectable scones and tea. I think I would enjoy having a cup with Burt at the Indigo Tea Shop and I’m definitely going to have to try the recipes for Drayton’s Devonshire Cream and Haley’s Beef Stroganoff 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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

To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Devonshire Scream,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn Sunday evening,
March 13
th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US.