A Little Dinner Before the Play by Agnes Jekyll

I received this book for Christmas as part of the Penguin Books Great Food series.  The books in the set are reprints of classic food writing, some are memoirs more than traditional cookbooks.  This book, A Little Dinner Before the Play, consists of extracts from The Kitchen Essays first published in 1922.

I really enjoy cooking and reading about cooking and this was a fascinating glimpse into some historical perspectives about food, food service, and cooking.  Political correctness is nowhere to be found here with chapters on what to feed the too thin and the too fat, along with ideas as to why the guests are too thin or too fat.   There are many recipes that I have tried in more modern formats and much basic cooking.  There are even ideas for Meatless meals which is a theme that continues on today in the common meme “Meatless Mondays”.

I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading others in the Great Food set that I have.

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Do or Diner & Fat Cat at Large

  I finished these two cozies in the last couple days.

Do or Diner was this month’s group read at the Cozy Mystery Corner on Goodreads.  I had seen this before but hadn’t picked it up to read or even put it on my TBR list.  I am really glad it was a book club read because I enjoyed reading it, so much so that I already purchased the second book in the series.

The protagonist has purchased a family business that includes a diner as it’s mainstay.  The rest of the business is focused on summer holiday cottages.  The diner specializes in old fashioned type comfort food that sounds delicious.  The protagonist, Trixie becomes embroiled in the murder because it happens in the kitchen of her diner and threatens the reputation of the diner.  Trixie is not convinced that the local police, who include a possible love interest cowboy cop, are investigating quickly enough to save her business or with enough zeal to clear her name.  An interesting selection of supporting characters, including diner kitchen and wait staff and a mayor who comes across as a sleazeball.

Well done cozy mystery with a very comforting feel, it reminded me of Connie Archer’s Soup Shop mystery series which I also love.

Fat Cat at Large was a book I read about online and was waiting to be released.  My local indie bookshop just got it in and let me know so I picked it up on my last trip over there.  There is a lot to like about this book, Quincy, the fat cat, is an obvious plus, the theme, a bar cookie bakery, and even the setting of Minneapolis, with the cozy bakeshop and Chase’s apartment above it.

I also liked the realism shown through the tension between the business partners, Chase and Anna.  Often cozies feature best friends, or relatives as business partners in small businesses and show none of the tension or issues that can and usually do arise in those circumstances.  As a former accountant, I can tell you that as much as you love someone, going into business with them can often sound the death knell on the relationship.

I did enjoy reading this but I feel that it needed to be tightened up a little editing wise and some of the dialogue needs tweaking.  It seemed a little off at times.  This is the first in the series so I will look forward to the next one to see how it develops.

A Roux of Revenge, Written in Blood, & The Cornish Coast Mystery

My latest three reads are pictured above.  A Roux of Revenge is the third book in the “A Soup Lover’s Mystery” by Connie Archer.  Lucky is busy running her business, hosting a pumpkin carving contest, and attempting to sort out the family problems of young employee, Janie and her mother, Miriam.  In the midst of all this, a fair is being hosted in the town by a somewhat sleazy businessman, a murder occurs of  a mystery man, and details of an old unsolved robbery surface.  There is lots of action that certainly pushes the plot along in this outing of the series.  Lucky is a great character and the other recurring characters continue to be fleshed out as the series develops.

The mystery plot is interesting with a few red herrings to throw the reader off the trail.  There is also an interesting romantic subplot with Lucky that is explored more than it was in previous books.   I thoroughly enjoyed A Roux of Revenge and look forward to the next book in the series.

Written in the Blood by Caroline Graham is one of the books that the Midsomer Murders TV series is based on  with the wonderful Inspector Barnaby as the sleuth.   This was actually one of my favorite episodes of the TV show.  A writers group’s invitation to a well known author to speak leads to murder and old secrets springing forth.  The members of the writing group are an eclectic bunch from a woman writing her family history, to a college professor who does improvisational work and a kind of poetry, the professor’s wife with a children’s book about a dragon and others.  There are many secrets that come to light before the murderer is finally exposed.   A really well done English village mystery which includes a colorful cast of characters, a lovely setting, and an intelligent, admirable sleuth.

The Cornish Coast Mystery by John Bude is a British Library Crime Classic.  It is part of a series of crime novels from the British golden age of crime writing that are now being republished after almost disappearing from sight.  This was an engaging read right from the first chapter.  The Vicar earns not only the Inspector’s respect but the reader’s as well.  His methodical approach to solving the crime and following the clues shows intelligence and insight.  The interest in this book is in the details.  The details show the difference between reading a book that written in the past and reading a modern day historical  fiction.   The scene is established vividly through the details.  The red herrings are supported by evidence to lead the reader along enough to be convincing.

The author employs a technique that I know I have seen in current mystery novels and I am curious whether he was the first to try it.  I don’t want to say more because it is an integral part of the plot.  I am certain I will enjoy reading more work by John Bude and more of the British Crime Classics in general.

Fiction from #Deadly Ink

I attended the Deadly Ink conference this past weekend and the authors of these books were all there.  The Donna Andrews book I picked up ahead of time after hearing that she would be the Toastmaster of the event and realizing I had never read any of her books.  I purchased other books at the conference, which was excellent and very well ran.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to attend writing classes, listen to authors on panel discussions and just in general meet with authors in a more intimate setting.

The Cat Sitter’s Cradle is book 8 in the Dixie Hemingway series, a series began by Blaize Clement and continued by her son, John after her death.  I had read a book or two in the series a while ago, unfortunately I am not very good at keeping track of my series and was surprised to see how many books I had missed.  This happens to me all the time with lots of series.

Even though I read this one out of order, it did not impact my enjoyment of it.  The book opens with Dixie   stumbling across both a woman giving birth and a “dead” expensive exotic bird while walking her dog.  The book takes off from there and continues at a good pace.  On one of Dixie’s pet sitting jobs, a dead body appears and she finds herself right in the middle of the investigation, knowing both the victim and the suspects.

The mystery plot was well done and I was surprised at who the killer was revealed to be.  The characters are interesting and very natural feeling.  Dixie’s back story is tragic and probably a little darker than the average cozy, but makes her a more complex character.  Dixie’s brother and his partner are well done, in that they fit seamlessly into the story.  Lately, I have noticed that there seems to be a trend to have a gay character, just for the sake of having a gay character, not because they are a purposeful part of the story, that type of insertion feels to me more like a marketing ploy and turns me off.

Very good pacing throughout the story and the romantic subplot was charming.  The writing gave a well defined sense of place (or at least I think so having not spent much time in Florida).

Lovely, quick reading cozy mystery.  I bought a second one at the conference, The Cat Sitter’s Pajamas which I will read soon.

Murder with Peacocks was written by Donna Andrews, the Toastmaster of the convention.  This series is set in Yorktown, Virginia and I spent some time growing up in Norfolk, so I am somewhat familiar with Virginia.

Meg Langslow has returned home for the summer to be  the unpaid, unofficial wedding planner/wrangler/point person for not one, but 3 family members.  Lots of crazy characters and antics are involved here along with the murder of a particularly unpleasant guest. There is also a romantic interest, sort of anyway.  Let’s just say that there are obstacles in the way of the romance and leave it at that.

This is the first in the series and so I assume that that is why so little of the book is actually concerned with the mystery, rather it involves the antics of a wide ranging cast of characters.   I feel as though this book really was introducing the supporting characters, the setting and the sleuth.  Setting up for a very popular and long running series of cozy mysteries.  Definitely on the side of the humorous cozies, this series seems more for comedy than mystery.

Cinnamon Girl:  A Village Cooks Mystery by Valerie Horowitz is a culinary mystery with some interesting political connections.  The sleuth Bonnie Emerson, is a daughter of a former POTUS.  Now married, she has a son and a small cookbook and cooking supply store in a affluent New Jersey community.  A murder occurs and through several events it becomes evident that the murderer thinks that Bonnie knows who he is.  The Secret Service is called in and the investigation continues through a large cast of characters, interesting cookbook references, and another death.

I live in New Jersey and so the setting is very familiar to me and seemed accurate. There is a large cast of characters and the author provides a list in the front of the book to keep them straight. This is the author’s first in a series of Village Cooks Mysteries.

 

Back From Brief Hiatus

I have been having some issues based on my ankle surgery/leg/foot problems that have not allowed me to read…pretty severe restless leg syndrome. It has been very depressing to not be able to sleep, read or even focus too much on watching full shows on TV. Anyway, seem to be showing much improvement thanks to these:

Being able to read again I dove into these two:

 

 

 

I loved both of them!  S. J. Bolton’s Lacey is trying desperately not to stay on the force, but she is drawn into an investigation of missing and murdered children almost inevitably.  Lacey is a great character and really drives the book, but the other characters and the mystery are well done as well.

I didn’t guess who the villain was until the reveal, I had eliminated other suspects but still the ending was a surprise.  I really enjoy the dark moodiness that Ms. Bolton’s books evoke through her use of settings and description.  I have read several of her other books and will continue to read her work.  Highly recommended!

I love Ken Bruen’s character, Jack Taylor, and have watched all the episodes available to me on Acorn TV, including the Magdalen episode.  There were a few differences from the book and the TV show but I enjoyed them both.  I liked the literary references that seem much more prominent in this book than the previous ones in the series. There is even reference to this being a pathology of Jack’s, retreating into examination of the literary world.  This book centers on the infamous Magdalen laundry, the nuns and the women imprisoned there.  Jack has a favor called in and investigates what happened there.

Jack is a great character and I am always drawn into his world in these books and in the TV show.  The setting, characters and mystery are always superbly done.   I would definitely suggest reading the books in order to see Jack’s changes over time.  Great read!

 

Blue Monday by Nicci French

 

I just finished this one, the first in the Frieda Klein series.  I have read one other in the series, Waiting for Wednesday and really enjoyed it.  The relationship between Frieda and Karlsson is now easier to understand after reading the first in the series.

This was  a well written psychological thriller.  Frieda is an interesting character whose mind makes connections and works through problems in an unconventional manner.  The mystery was somewhat improbable to me and therefore I didn’t find this as good a book as Waiting on Wednesday.  To get into the specific problems would spoil the book for others, so I will just leave it that I didn’t find the big reveal to be shocking or surprising and the ending was unbelievable.

The character of Frieda and her relationships is what really drives these books and therefore I will probably read the next book in the series.

Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell

This is the group read this month for The Cozy Mystery Corner Book Club on Goodreads.  Sarah Atwell is a pen name for Sheila Connolly, who writes the County Cork series, which I adore and two other series I have not tried yet, an Orchard series and a Museum series.

This series theme is glassblowing, which I admittedly know nothing about and don’t necessarily have very much interest in to be honest.  In general I am not an artistic or crafty person at all, not really any talent in those kinds areas. When I was a kid, in about second grade, my mom told me she always knew which project was mine when it was time to visit the classroom for back to school night.  She said she just had to look for the worst one on the wall and that would be it.  I have not improved over time.

Anyway, there is a lot to like about this book, the sleuth, Emmeline or Em, is different from most cozy mystery protagonists, at least initially.  She hears the proverbial bump in the night and rather than rush headlong into danger, she actually calls 911 and waits until she hears the culprits running away before getting out of bed to investigate.  She is a successful established business woman, most cozy mysteries start the series with the sleuth beginning their business.  The setting is in Tuscon and she does make the setting important and incorporate it into the story line.  It seems to me accurate and a good sense of place, although I have not been to Tuscon so I really have no way of knowing.  Interesting comments about limited exterior lighting to prevent light pollution suggest knowledge of the area.

Her brother, Cam is also another non-traditional cozy character.  He is obviously loyal and loving to his sister, an IT worker who lives a few hours away and visits when he can.  He seems somehow naive and innocent in an interesting way.  The other secondary characters are similarly interesting.

The book is also not traditionally plotted.  There is a murder and it is pretty straightforwardly solved in about the first two thirds of the book.  Then there is a second plot related to the murder but more in the lines of a low level thriller involving kidnapping and a missing valuable object(s).  It made it a different read than the usual cozy.

The negatives are that at least for me, there is too much detail on the glass blowing.  It might just be me, I like my themes in cozies to not overwhelm the mystery plot and here I found myself skimming some of the glass blowing detail because  I couldn’t understand it anyway.  I mean I get that you have special tools and furnaces and that temperature is important, but beyond that…ehh.  The other negative is that the mystery is not enough, there needs to be more red herrings or twists if it is going to be a mystery.

The negatives might improve in later books in the series.  There are two more and then it appears that is it.  Being that the series appears to be discontinued after 3 books, I am not sure that I will continue with it, although I do like a lot about the book.