Four Books From a Rough Week

Read all of these this week, even though it has been a rough week.  Lost Czar, the angry grey cat, last Tuesday and then had a rough week at work, enough to make me want to climb into bed and pull the covers over my head.  Anyway, adopted a new rescue kitty this week so things are looking brighter.

A Taste of the Sun by Elizabeth David is one of the Penguin Books’ Great Food releases, which I received for Christmas and have been enjoying reading off and on.  This is a top quality foodie read packed with history and interesting recipes from a writer who brought French and Italian influences to British cooking.  The recipes are easy to follow and still relevant today such as recipes for Ragu, Bolognese and Tian.  The sections are varied and make for interesting reading as one finds chapters devoted to picnics, wine in the kitchen, potted meats and fish and even toast.   A great read for those interested in food writing and food history.

Can’t Find My Way Home by Carlene Thompson is a thriller that is based upon an 18 year old “solved” crime involving the protagonist, Brynn’s father.  Her brother has always been convinced of their father’s innocence and on a mission to uncover new evidence he disappears this brings Brynn back to the scene of the crime, exactly where she never wanted to be.  There are twists and turns here, but although I can’t point to any specific clues I solved this relatively early on.  Still it was an engaging read, well paced and it even was satisfying to discover my guess was correct in the end.  The cover blurb read, ” Mary Higgens Clark fans, take note” and that felt fairly accurate to me.  The novel does read much like Ms. Clark’s books.

Kill ‘Em With Cayenne by Gail Oust is the second book in the A Spice Shop Mystery Series.  In this book, Piper continues to struggle with her business and her teenage daughter, her ex is planning his wedding, and two romantic opportunities compete for her attention.  Becca is not well liked and especially by Maybelle, one of Piper’s customers and friends and when Becca turns up dead, the police look to Maybelle as their number one suspect.  Piper ups her sleuthing game to prove Maybelle is innocent.  A BBQ festival in town widens the pool of suspects for the murder.  A fun mystery read for cozy fans.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders was an impulse checkout at the library.  The cover caught my eye and I added it to my pile.  THis was not quite a cozy mystery but I don’t exactly know where else to categorize it.  There was a lot of humor primarily aimed at the publishing industry as the protagonist is an editor and the mystery surrounds a book she is to publish by a friend of hers.  Turns out that it is a piece of investigative journalism that some people do not want published.  The author goes missing and Sam uses her intelligence and her contacts to investigate with considerable help from others among them, her mother, an attorney of considerable talent.  The money laundering plot line is somewhat convoluted but I guess that is the point of money laundering.  Several strong female characters and the characters in general are well drawn and fully fleshed out.  A very good mystery with humor along for the ride.

Assault and Pepper by Leslie Budewitz

Just finished this new cozy mystery, Assault and Pepper, A Spice Shop Mystery  by Leslie Budewitz, who also writes the Food Lovers’ Series.  I enjoyed this mystery particularly for the sense of place that is developed.  The setting is Seattle and the book is “peppered” with references to Seattle landmarks and lifestyle references.  The main character, Pepper, is interesting and intelligent and there is a rather large cast of characters, the staff of the spice shop, Pepper’s girlfriends, and the local homeless community.  Pepper has a couple of love interests but not in the sense of the love triangle common to cozy mysteries.

Pepper gets involved in a murder investigation because she discovers the body on her shop’s doorstep and then one of her employees is arrested.  Pepper makes it her mission to clear Tory’s name irritating her ex-husband, a local policeman, and putting herself in danger.

I will be reading more of this series as they become available!

Murder of a Small Town Honey by Denise Swanson

This is the current read over at the Cozy Mystery Corner on Goodreads.  This is the first book in a well established cozy mystery series currently on book 17.  The protagonist, Skye, is a school psychologist who is being forced to return home to a small town Scrumble River and in the process needs to eat some humble pie over statements that she made when giving her valedictorian speech and leaving town for greener pastures.

I liked the main character, Skye, when she dealt with school officials in her capacity as a school psychologist. Other times she seemed to regress and behave immaturely, usually when dealing with her family members.  The really interesting thing here that the author seems to go against the basic norm of cozies, that is the small town = good, big city = bad trope.  Everything that caused Skye to flee Scrumble River is pointed out through her interactions with the people in the town and particularly the school system, racism, sexism, lack of privacy, intolerance, and lack of compliance with ADA and FAPE (for non-teachers these acts apply to special education in schools among other issues).  It is really unusual, at least in my cozy reading, to have the the setting of the book and the characters, other than the lead, painted in such an unflattering light. The author took a huge risk that she would alienate her audience, but it paid off.  As a reader, you end up rooting for Skye, to solve the mystery and one up the small minds she is dealing with in the town.

I did enjoy this and will read more in the series to see what happens to Skye.

Red Velvet Revenge by Jenn McKinlay

  This is book 4 in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery Series.  Business is slow for the Fairy Tale Cupcakes Shop during the heatwave and so Melanie and Angie take the show on the road.  With Angie’s family’s help, they rehab a mobile cupcake van and take it to a rodeo where they set up shop.  Of course upon their arrival there is a shooting, a murder, animal rights activists and other shady characters to contend with.   I am always leery when cozy mystery series attempt to “take the show on the road” so to speak, or rather leave the “cozy” setting they have established, but this worked really well and was a fun read.  Being out of town Melanie’s romance took a backseat, while Angie’s romantic subplot was still being decided.  Well done storyline with a fun rodeo backdrop for the mystery!  Recommended for all cozy lovers

Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving, Deadly Night, & Tragic Toppings

I am reading my way through the Penguins Great Food set that I received for Christmas and so I just finished Hannah Glasse’s contribution to the set, Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving. I am finding these historical food reads fascinating and this one is no different.  Interesting comments in many of the chapters are entertaining and give a hint to the attitudes and dry wit of Hannah Glasse.  The opening note, To the Reader, sets out Mrs. Glasse’s intention for her writing and sets the tone that continues througout the text.  An example at the beginning of Chapter III:  Boiling and Dressing:

That professed cooks will find fault with me for touching upon a branch of Cookery which they never thought worth their notice, is what I expect:  however, this I know, is is the most necessary part of it; and few servants there are that know how to boil and dress to perfection.

The detailed instruction in making everything from Mead, to Mushroom powder, to Everlasting Syllabub and to choosing all varieties of meats, poultry and fish gives me an appreciation for the work and effort that went into cooking and feeding a family in the days before supermarkets, take outs, and all the modern appliances.  Intriguing picture of everyday life in the mid 1700s and a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in food history or historical documentation of life in those times.

Deadly Night by Christine Green is a new-to-me series but it is actually book 8 in the Kate Kinsella mystery series.  I don’t know how I missed this one!  The character of Kate and her relationship with Hubert is engaging and interesting in the way  a non-romantic male-female relationship can be.  The sense of place is well developed and I could picture the locations and had a very good sense of the geography even though I jumped into this series in the middle.  The mystery is well crafted with red herrings that are not too heavy handed.  The mystery and the crimes are dark however it is not a graphic mystery, I would probably put it on mystery spectrum in the soft-boiled range.  I am definitely going to be reading more in this series and am very happy to have discovered it.

Tragic Toppings is the 5th book in Jessica Beck’s A Donut Shop Mystery series.  I have been reading this mystery series for a while and I am really enjoying it.  I like the main character Suzanne Hart and her friends and the recurring characters, George, Emma, Jake and Grace.  Each of the characters is well drawn and fully fleshed out.  More importantly, each  has a purpose in Suzanne’s life and in the plot.  There are  also interesting side plots going on in this book including, Suzanne’s mother dating, Suzanne still seeing Jake, and Max, Suzanne’s ex-husband, causing his own drama in town.  The mystery is well done and the resolution is dramatic.  Tragic Toppings is proof that cozy mystery series can continue and get better over time.  Recommended read for cozy mystery fans.

Diners, Drive-ins and Death & By Book or By Crook

 By Book or By Crook is the first in the new A Lighthouse Library Mystery series.  Lucy has just moved to the Outer banks fleeing a life she decided she didn’t want (nothing dramatic just dying of boredom) and has taken a job as an Assistant Librarian at a unique library, one that is housed in a lighthouse.  The hiring of an outsider to work in the beloved library is the subject of tension in the community as much as the new first edition Jane Austin exhibit is the subject of excitement. At her debut party for the library, an important board member meets his end and Lucy’s new friend and boss Bertie is suspected.  This drags Lucy into the case trying to clear Bertie’s name.  There is also a theft side plot that is just as important and intriguing as the main story line. I loved this opener to the series.  Lucy’s character was strong, but not perfect.  The petty jealousies of the local (insiders) are well done and entertaining.  The cast, as a whole, work well together and are an engaging group of personalities.  There is a more realistic feel to this cozy than some of the more over the top story lines and characters in other cozies.  Really well done series opener and I am looking forward to reading more in the series.

Diners, Drive-ins and Death by Christine Wenger is book three in the Comfort Food Mystery Series.  In this book, Trixie struggles to clear the name of ACB, Antoinette Chloe Brown, her muumuu wearing friend.   ACB is accused of murdering her current love interest after his body is found buried in a field that she owns and her possessions are found liberally sprinkled around the scene.  As the crime investigation is going on there is also a beauty pageant in town that has brought several out of town women to compete adding to the pool of suspects and an All Chef Motorcycle Club.   I really liked the first two in this series, but this one did not work as well for me.  ACB as a focus with her muumuus, fascinators, and kitschy jewelry was more of an annoyance and distraction. I have liked the series so far, so I will continue with the next book when it comes out.