Nightshade by Susan Wittig Albert
This is the third book in a trilogy within the larger China Bayles mystery series. The other two books are Bleeding Hearts and Spanish Dagger. China is a former attorney who owns an herb shop in the Texas hill country, and does a lot of detecting on the side, often with Ruby, who runs the new age store next to the herb shop, and Sheila, who’s in law enforcement. Mike McQuaid, China’s partner, is a former cop and university professor turned private detective. This trilogy is about a mystery from China’s past; her father’s death in a car crash 16 years earlier, and the introduction of a previously unknown half-brother, Miles. China wasn’t close to her father, who was also a lawyer, and resists the idea that his death wasn’t an accident. This is a good point to jump into an excellent ongoing mystery series. There is a strong sense of place, which makes me want to visit the Texas hill country. The characters develop and change from book to book, and subplots often carry over as well. Susan also writes the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, the Darling Dahlias books, and collaborates with her husband Bill on the Kate and Charles Sheridan mystery series as Robin Paige. Learn more at their website, along with information about herbs, recipes, and the Texas hill country.
Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
This is the latest book in the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series, which begins with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. They are set in fictional Lake Eden, Minnesota, where Hannah owns The Cookie Jar, a cookie bakery and coffee shop, frequently finds bodies, and tries to decide which boyfriend she likes best: Mike the detective or Norman the dentist. Her mother and two sisters along with her friend and baking partner Lisa help her solve cases, in between baking and enjoying cookies and other desserts. Recipes are included, but I like to listen to Joanne Fluke’s books on compact disc, so I haven’t tried the recipes yet. There is a cookbook available, Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook. Unlike most mystery series, you can start with any book, as Hannah shows no signs of settling down with either boyfriend, and the main characters continue from book to book. If you’re looking for a light, cozy mystery, Hannah Swensen mysteries are perfect. Appealing characters, small town setting, and a suspenseful scene or two make for enjoyable reading.
A Killer Read by Erika Chase
Book discussion groups can be more fun and interesting then you’d expect if you haven’t yet joined one. But I’ve never been to a book discussion as exciting as the first meeting of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straw Society. Reading specialist Lizzie Turner has organized the book group, which is meeting at the mansion of her friend Molly. Lizzie finds an intruder inside the mansion, who asks to use the phone to call a tow truck, but shortly afterwards, his body is found outside. Everyone in the book group is a suspect. The new police chief, Mark, grew up in Ashton Corners and shows special interest in Lizzie, who coordinates the book group’s sleuthing when not working at the local schools. The small town Alabama setting is appealing, and Lizzie, who sings, teaches reading, and works with young adults studying for the G.E.D. when not visiting her mother at a retirement home, is a fairly complex character. Ashton Corners is well worth visiting if you’re in the mood for a cozy contemporary mystery. A sequel has just been published; Read and Buried. Learn more at the author’s website.
Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard
Life on the home front in Elderberry, Georgia, is pretty calm in Fall,1942 until Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, longtime first grade teacher, disappears, and the school custodian dies, apparently of a heart attack. Charlie Carr and her friend Annie, both teachers, decide to investigate, along with Charlie’s mother and aunt. Charlie’s boyfriend Hugh will probably enlist in the armed forces soon, and Charlie wonders how she’ll answer if he proposes. The reader learns Miss Dimple’s account of her kidnapping, a possible motive, and how she plans to get rescued. Meanwhile Thanksgiving is coming, with plans for a meal and dance for visiting service men. This is a cozy mystery with lots of quirky characters and small town charm. I enjoyed a glimpse of Charlie’s life as a teacher dealing with rationing, lunch at a boarding house, worries about her brother in North Africa, and doing her bit by writing to many of the enlisted men she meets. There are two more books already in this series. The second book is Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause. Miss Dimple Disappears reminds me of the 1930s Darling Dahlias mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert, set in small-town Alabama.
The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
This is a great time of year to read this book, set during a hot April in small town Alabama in the 1930s. The Dahlias are members of a garden club in Darling, now growing a victory garden to help during hard times and getting ready to plant a variety of hibiscus known as the confederate rose at the town cemetery. They also solve mysteries in their spare time; this time trying to clear Verna’s name when she is suspected of embezzlement, solving the puzzle of a cryptic message that is Miss Rogers’ only link to her family history, and figuring out why Angelina is overwrought and losing her hair. It’s a fascinating look at how our mothers or grandmothers may have lived. This is the third book in a series; here’s what I wrote last year about the previous book. If you are in the mood to read a light mystery with quirky characters in a setting very different from ours today, I suggest meeting the Darling Dahlias. Susan and her husband Bill also write other mystery series. Visit their website for more information.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
will be discussed on Tuesday, September 25, at 7pm. Meet Flavia de Luce, amateur sleuth and aspiring chemist, age 11. The Flavia de Luce mystery series is set in the early 1950s in a small English village, and at Buckshaw, the family estate. Flavia lives with her two older sisters, and her father, an avid stamp collector. Mrs. Mullet, the cook and housekeeper, finds a dead bird on the doorstep with a rare stamp stuck on its beak. Later Flavia hears her father arguing with someone in the garden, and finds a man dying in the cucumber patch. Inspector Hewitt arrests Colonel de Luce, so Flavia, aided by their shell-shocked gardener/handyman Dogger, investigates.
This is the award-winning first book in an ongoing series; see my review of the latest book here. For more about Flavia, visit the author’s website. For a real treat, Jane Entwhistle narrates all of the audiobooks.
Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood
The Corinna Chapman mystery series by Kerry Greenwood is an unexpected pleasure. Kerry is best know for her Phryne Fisher series, set in 1920s Melbourne with the exotic and now rich private investigator Phryne. The Earthly Delights books are set in modern Melbourne, in and around an eccentric Roman-style apartment building. Corinna, a former accountant, now bakes artisan bread, and groans everytime the alarm rings at 4:00am. She acquires an unusual young apprentice, and has two actress/model hopefuls as shop assistants. Corinna also has a nose for solving crimes. We meet the quirky residents of her building, vicariously enjoy some wonderful meals, and explore the best and also the poorer parts of Melbourne. I’ve read and enjoyed the first four books in the series and have two more to go. Visit Kerry’s website for more about Corinna, Melbourne, and some delicious looking recipes. The books are:
Trick or Treat
Cooking the Books
Enjoy, and let me know if you try any of the recipes.
The Big Cat Nap, by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
It’s been 20 years since Harry (Mary Minor) Harristeen and her pets started solving mysteries in Crozet, Virginia. If you haven’t discovered this cozy mystery series, you’re in for a treat, especially if you like small town mysteries where two cats and a dog help solve crimes. The first book is Wish You Were Here, where Harry and Miranda run the local post office. In The Big Cat Nap, Harry is concentrating on farming, and is considering selling her sunflower crop to the local grocer ahead of harvest to help finance tractor repairs. Due to a minor accident and a mechanical problem, two of Harry’s friends are referred to the ReNu collision repair shops run by Victor Gatzembizi. ReNu is known for its low cost repairs, and is recommended by the local insurance agency. When Harry drives a friend there to pick up his truck, she finds a dead mechanic instead. After another ReNu worker is killed, Harry is hot on the trail, which may lead to a local racetrack. While Harry’s cat Pewter is being quarrelsome, she still helps fellow cat Mrs. Murphy and corgi Tee Tucker protect Harry and do their own detecting. The small town Virginia setting and Harry’s circle of friends (including veterinarian husband Fair) add greatly to the appeal of these books. The cats, dogs, horses and even an owl talk amongst themselves and add to the charm.
Affairs of Steak, by Julie Hyzy
This is the newest entry in the White House Chef Mystery series by Hyzy. Olivia (Ollie) Paras is the White House executive chef, the first woman to hold that position. She is dedicated, hard-working, and has the strong ethics required of any White House employee.
The problem is that she is frequently in the wrong place at the wrong time and stumbles across things she shouldn’t, such as dead bodies. And her curiosity sometimes gets the better of her.
These stories involve lots of insights into the doings at the White House and interesting tidbits about how the rather small kitchen staff prepares the meals for the First Family, as well as the details involved in planning the large events—state dinners and luncheons.
The White House sensitivity director, Peter Everett Sargeant, and Ollie, who have had clashes in the past, need to work together to prepare a lavish birthday party for the Secretary of State. Things go awry immediately, and the complications compound. The Secret Service is involved, as well as numerous other White House employees.
This book does not focus as closely on the First Family as the earlier ones do, but it is a fun read, clever, and Ollie is a fine, well-developed character. The rest of the kitchen staff is also well-drawn.
Hyzy includes some recipes in the back of the books also. Anyone for Pastry-Wrapped Asparagus Spears with Prosciutto?
The other books in the series are:
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley
Meet Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old chemist and amateur sleuth. She lives at Buckshaw, a stately old house in England with her father, a stamp collector, spiteful older sisters Daphne and Ophelia, and Dogger, Buckshaw’s butler/handyman/gardener. Motherly Mrs. Mullet comes in daily to cook and clean. The year is 1950, and Colonel de Luce, struggling to make ends meet, rents out Buckshaw to a film company over the Christmas holidays. The famous Phyllis Wyvern and crew move in. Lead actors Phyllis and Desmond agree to put on a show for charity, and act out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet for the residents of nearby Bishop’s Lacey. A blizzard strands the villagers, who camp out in Buckshaw’s vast foyer.
In the meantime, Flavia is busy concocting a sticky trap for Father Christmas, whose existence is denied by her sisters. When she finds a strangled body, Dogger and Flavia assist Inspector Hewitt in solving the murder. Sometimes Flavia seems too smart for her age, although emotionally she is just right, but she is always good company. This is the fourth book in an award-winning mystery series beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but is my favorite to date. Happily, the author is contracted for five more titles. I have listened to the whole series on compact disc, and really enjoy Jayne Entistle’s narration. For more about Flavia, visit the author’s website, or view the book trailer.