Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
In the 17th culinary mystery by Joanne Fluke, Hannah Swensen and Lisa, her partner at the Cookie Jar bakery and coffee shop, haven’t had a mystery to solve in four months. While Lake Eden, Minnesota, is a small town, Hannah has a gift (or curse) for finding bodies. Unfortunately, an accident during a thunderstorm leaves an unidentified man dead. The only identifying feature is a diamond on one tooth. Hannah, along with her family and friends, try to identify the man. Hannah wins a large and unexpected prize in a raffle, which fascinates her cat, Moishe. Also, Hannah and her sisters Andrea and Michelle are trying to plan their mother Delores’ wedding to longtime beau Doc, but Delores changes her mind about the menu, flowers, and dresses every couple of days. Along with recipes for blackberry pie, blue apple muffins, and triple chocolate cookies, the reader enjoys another charming visit to Lake Eden. If you like to start at the beginning of the series, look for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, but I think you can start with any of her books. Each book has several recipes, and there is also a companion cookbook, Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook. Enjoy!
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews
This is a fun, fast-paced cozy holiday mystery. Meg Langslow and her husband Michael are busy preparing for Christmas with their 4-year-old twin boys and extended family in their small college town. Michael and Meg’s brother Rob are new volunteer firefighters and start getting paged to calls at local churches. One church has skunks; another has a small fire, while a third building has been filled with ducks. Meg is given the job of re-scheduling the various choir practices, nativity plays, and church services while looking for the culprit. A temperamental choir director almost puts Meg out of commission with a dislocated shoulder, and Meg’s mother is going overboard with holiday decorations. Michael is preparing for a one-man Christmas Carol reading for charity, while the little boys provide comic relief. Their days are hectic and tiring, and they long for a traditional holiday dinner with just their boys.
Murder Past Due by Miranda James
I was happy to discover a cozy mystery featuring a cat and a librarian that I enjoyed. I do enjoy a couple of series featuring cats, including Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series and Rita Mae Brown’s Sneaky Pie series, but many others just don’t appeal to me. Widower Charlie Ward has inherited his aunt’s large house in Athena, Mississippi, and lives there with his Maine Coon cat Diesel and a couple of college student boarders. Charlie works part-time at the college library, working as an archivist, and volunteers at the public library. Diesel, who walks on a lease, gets to come to work with him. Bestselling thriller writer Godfrey Priest is in town, and Charlie is surprised to get a visit from his former classmate. Godfrey wants to donate his notes and manuscripts to the college, and to get Charlie’s help in meeting his boarder Justin. Godfrey has just learned that he is Justin’s father. Justin’s mother Julia is not happy that Godfrey wants to take his son to California with him.
Later, a body is found in the local hotel. Charlie and his cat investigate, turning up secrets all over town. I found Charlie and Diesel to be good company, and plan to read the next book in the series, Classified as Murder. Miranda James is a pen name for librarian/writer Dean James.
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.