Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Darling Dahlias

Cozy mysteries have a long and storied history with settings all over the world and in many different decades. Susan Wittig Albert's The Darling Dahlias and the Eleven O'Clock Lady transports the reader back to 1934. Times were hard in Darling, Alabama, and gardens were not just used to grow pretty flowers. Families subsisted on the vegetables they could produce and sell or trade.

Club president Liz Lacy has always loved the Eleven O'Clocks, a white blossom that opens when the sun shines directly on then, hence the Eleven O'Clock name. But someone in town has that same nickname. Rona Jean Hancock, a telephone switchboard operator, (if your think the NSA intrudes on your privacy, switchboard operators would put them to shame with what they know) earned her nickname because she finished her shift at eleven o'clock in the evening.

Rona Jean is also known for her somewhat wild reputation and when she is found dead in a compromising position, it is up to the Dahlias to discover who her murder is. Meanwhile the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) has set up a work camp on the outskirts of town and there are many strange men employed at the camp. Did one of them find Rona Jean too tempting?

The CCC was a real organization and it is credited with helping struggling people, especially World War I veterans, find meaningful work during the Depression. Throughout the nine-year life of the program nearly three million men worked in 2,600 CCC work camps in every state and territory. The workers planted three billion trees, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, built dams and fought forest fires. The CCC was responsible for more than half the total public and private reforestation that has been achieved in the nation's entire history.

Oh and the mystery was interesting, too. The first book in the series is The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Gilded Age

Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell doesn't exactly fit the mold of this blog, but I included it anyway. Fringe Vanderbilt relative Emma Cross finds herself split between two worlds - the lifestyle of the super rich and the real life of a poor relative.

Emma makes her way as a newspaper reporter in Newport, Rhode Island. She has direct access to the rich and famous in the gilded mansions of Newport, so her articles cover fashion and the sumptuous parties at the glorious mansion events.

Somehow Emma finds herself in the middle of murders in each of the three books in the series. In the latest, all the men are involved in a sailboat race when a storm quickly blows in and causes one of the boats to capsize. The rich, powerful and cruel Virgil Monroe is swept overboard. Emma's special friend Derrick Andrews dives in to try to save him or is that his intent?

Derrick is pulled from the sea, unconscious and sent to the hospital. When the sailboat ropes and mast
are found to be sabotaged, signs point to murder and the spotlight lands on Derrick. Emma tries to
prove he is innocent while managing her household of wayward souls and a foundling baby. Is the baby the child of one the society ladies? It appears to be the case and Emma enlists her friends' maids to seek out who has been missing from the Newport scene.

The Gilded Age may have been a period of extravagant parties and lavish lifestyles, but the family discipline and meddling in romantic affairs was at its height. There were huge concerns about who children of the rich should or should not marry. Emma, being a fringe relative, misses most of the meddling, but she does manage to attend the lavish parties.

The first book in the series is Murder at the Breakers.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Quirky, off-center and funny

If slightly off-center people are to your liking, you will love the eccentric Vivian Borne and her daughter Brandy. In Antiques Swap, by Barbara Allan, they are up to their necks in trash and treasures as they begin filming their own TV show, Antiques Sleuths, in of all places, Serenity Iowa. Aptly named as not only do they uncover antiques, they unearth killers and corpses.

In this book Brandy encounters her old flame, local tycoon Wesley Sinclair III by literally falling into his arms. His wife Vanessa appears at the wrong moment and is not amused. She threatens Wes with dire consequences and storms off.

In a change of heart Vanessa calls Brandy to discuss selling some vintage beer signs. In a total change of demeanor Vanessa is sweetness and light when Brandy visits her home. Brandy agrees to do some research on the signs and return later in the day with some idea of their value. When Brandy and Vivian return to the mansion, they find Vanessa dead.

When Wes is accused of murder, Brandy is positive he did not murder her and, despite being told by
her policeman boyfriend (seems to be a pattern) to stay our of the case, she and her mother are on the hunt for the real murderer.

During a rambunctious  arraignment featuring an hysterical cross examination by the 90-year-old defense attorney, the case against Wes is dismissed for lack of evidence. Wes worries getting the case dismissed for insufficient evidence is not the same as getting a "not guilty" verdict.

Brandy is torn between continuing to search for the killer and taking her current boyfriend and police chief's advise, especially as her former boyfriend/former police chief is still on the force.

The quirky duo of Brandy and Vivian alternate writing the chapters in the book and it is so fun to read the different points of view of the same event.

The first book in the series is entitled Antiques Roadkill.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tourist Trap mysteries

Moving to the west coast, I found a series written by Lynn Cahoon that is jokingly called "The Tourist Trap Mysteries." The series features Jill Gardner, proprietor of Coffee, Books, and More in South Cove, California. Of course being on the coast brings out the tourist trap aspect of these books. The little town is filled with fun shops that are ideal stopping points for tourists traveling in this part of California.

When the mayor ropes Jill into being the liaison for a new work program for disadvantaged youth during the holidays, the towns people are concerned about the type of people the program will draw. After several run-ins with the program coordinator Ted Hendricks and witnessing him harassing another female shop owner, Jill fantasizes about killing him, only to find him dead in a car near her business.The police think it is suicide, but Jill believes there is more to the story.

As Jill digs into Ted's past she discovers his wife had vanished in an
apparent kidnapping scheme several years before. Even after the million dollars was wired to the offshore account, his wife was never released.

When Jill stumbles on some other unsavory history about the murder victim and one of the other store owners, she is unsure how to proceed. Naturally the new hires are under suspicion as well, but Jill works to prove they are deserving of the second chance they are receiving.

Despite her detective boyfriend's insistence that she not investigate, Jill continues to look into Ted's death. What she finds is a total surprise and unexpectedly answers a long dead question of what happened to Ted's wife.

I enjoyed this series for the breezy writing style and the main characters friendships with other store owners. The first book in the series is Guidebook of Murder.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Down East again

For some reason, the last few mysteries I've read take place in Maine. Can't seem to get away from the area, but the books were good. One series is written by Lea Wait. Thread and Gone is the third in the series.

The lead character Angie Curtis is the director of her grandmother's embroidery company, called Mainely Needlepoint. When I first met Angie, I did not warm to her, but as the series continued, I found her more interesting. In this book she and her cohorts have been asked to determine if a piece of embroidery that was found in an old home could have been created by Mary Queen of Scots.

How could embroidery made by the Scottish Queen in the 16th century have found its way to Maine? Is there any truth to the rumor that one of the Clough family sea captains brought it back?

Angie takes the sampler to her attorney for safekeeping, but within a
day, the attorney is dead and the sampler is missing along with some valuable jewelry. When another person turns up dead, but with the jewelry, Angie is confused and concerned for the sampler so she begins asking questions of all those who knew about the sampler.

The Mainely Needlepoint group is an interesting array of characters. There's a lobster boat captain, a high school science teacher (both males), an Australian antiques dealer, Angie's grandmother (newly married to the local minister), an erotic internet writer and several others. As I cannot needlepoint to save my life, I am fascinated by the amount of needlepoint they produce.

Here's hoping I have had my fill of Maine and can move on to another state!

The first book in this series is entitled Twisted Threads.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Library Lover's Mystery

In Jenn McKinlay's A Likely Story, Briar Creek, Connecticut, Library Director Lindsey Norris sets out by boat to Star Island to deliver books to the reclusive Rosen brothers. When no one appears at the dock to accept the books as is the usual practice, Lindsey and boat captain Sully, her ex-boyfriend, brave the booby trapped yard and hordes of junk accumulated over the years to reach the house. They find one brother dead and the other missing.

When two out-of-town antique collectors suddenly appear in town, is it just a coincidence or is it more? Kevin Perkins and Calvin Hodges say they strayed into town as part of buying trip through New England. Are they after something of value at the Rosen home? Is there even something of value in the overloaded home? Where is Stewart Rosen and did he kill his brother or did someone or something frighten him away?

Lindsey tries to unravel the mystery and patch up her broken
romance with the handsome boat captain Sully. Could there be more romance in the air at the library? Children's librarian Beth meets a cohort who is eager to learn as much as he can about Beth's programs. And what is Ms. Cole's secret? Can Lindsey charm her way back into Sully's heart or is
there competition for his affection?

Jenn McKinlay is a prolific cozy writer and I have enjoyed her series. Two other series she has written are the Cupcake Bakery mysteries (see previous post Valley of the Sun) and the Hat Shop mysteries. Sadly the Hat Shop mysteries take place in England, so they will not be included in this blog. Maybe once I have covered the US, I can move across the pond. Who knows?

The first book in the Library Lover's series is Books Can Be Deceiving.

Piper vs Pepper - Dueling Spice Shop Mysteries

Two mystery series use the spice shop as their locales. Leslie Budewitz's Pepper Reece books take place in Seattle and Gail Oust's Piper Prescott books take place in Brandywine Creek, Georgia.

First Pepper Reece in Guilty as Cinnamon. These books take place in Seattle's famous Pike Place Market where the Spice Shop is located. If you have been to Seattle and have visited the Pike Place Market, these books will enable you to mentally revisit the area. Budewitz gives much emphasis to Place. You can almost see the fish sellers entertaining customers by tossing fish around and smell the air redolent with a mix of spices and flowers. The Pike Place Market is all that and more. That may be why I enjoyed this series better than the other one.

Pepper is newly divorced but not rid of her ex-husband, Tag Buhner, a bicycle cop whose beat is the Pike Place Market. When one of Pepper's clients, young chef Tamara Langston is found dead in her soon-to-open restaurant Tamarack, the death looks accidental at first. When the cause of death is determined to be from ingesting too much of the fiery hot ghost chili carried in Pepper's shop, the death becomes a murder investigation.

Pepper wonders why an up-and-coming chef would open her restaurant in a space that is supposed to
be "haunted" and adjacent to an Indian restaurant called Tamarind. Who wanted to keep Tamara's new cafe from opening? Is it her current boss and mercurial chef Alex? Or is there something in Tamara's past that led to her death.

Guilty as Cinnamon effectively weaves tidbits of spice facts into the mystery surrounding the death. One thing you will learn is not to eat or handle too much of the ghost pepper!

The first book in the series is called Assault and Pepper.

Second series features Piper Prescott in Cinnamon Toasted.
The books take place in Brandywine Creek, Georgia, where Piper returns after being dumped by her husband in New York. Piper's ex-mother-in-law Melly may be a Southern Belle, but she also seems to be a computer whiz. She modifies a software program used in inventory control at Piper's shop and soon the original software company is interested in the modification.

The two owners of the company, "Trusty" Rusty Tulley and Chip Balboa arrive to discuss a deal. Everyone is excited, especially Melly as she dreams of software millions and maybe a potential romantic suitor. Chip comes to call on Melly, but the next day he is found dead in the basement of Melly's home. Why did Melly wait so long to call the police?

I enjoyed this series as well, and as in the other Spice Shop mysteries, you will learn interesting factors about spices and will want to incorporate them into your cooking. There's a little too much ex-husband in these books for my liking.

The first book in the series is Rosemary and Crime.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cozy Cooking

If you have ever driven yourself crazy trying to photocopy a recipe from a paperback book, The Cozy Cookbook is for you. It is filled with excerpts from some of my favorite cozy mysteries as well as wonderful recipes from those same books. The book contains over 100 recipes, some more complex than others. Don't be afraid - try a few!

Ellery Adams' Charmed Bacon-Lattice Breakfast Pie (from Pecan Pies and Homicides) sounds delicious. I doubt I have the nerve to try the lattice work, but I might. Stranger things have happened.

Connie Archer's French Toast Sandwich (from A Spoonful of Murder) is nothing like my mother's French Toast. It contains mushrooms, swiss cheese and worcestershire sauce.

The World's Best Grilled Chicken Breasts offered up by Leslie Budewitz (from Crime Rib) is one I have made. It is wonderfully flavorful and very easy to make. Be sure to use fresh herbs, none of those old bottled ones you've had in your pantry since your college days.

Of course no cookbook would be complete without desserts. There are so many from which to choose. One I have made and loved is Jenn McKinlay's Mojito Cupcakes (from Sprinkle with Murder). Another that sounds fantastic is Paige Shelton's Champagne Cookies (from If Fried Chicken Could Fly). No need to wait until New Year's Eve to pop this treat.