Kneaded to Death (A Bread Shop Mystery #1) by Winnie Archer

Kneaded to Death (A Bread Shop Mystery #1) by Winnie Archer

Ivy Culpepper returned to her home town of Santa Linda, California after living in Texas for a while. Her mother, a school teacher, was run over by a car in the school’s parking lot and Ivy wanted to be back home with her father and brother to mourn their loss. Things weren’t all that great in Texas where she divorced her cheating husband and the death of her mother was more than she could stand.

For six months Ivy didn’t know what to do with herself. All she thought about was her mom until she decided to take a bread baking class at Santa Linda’s best Mexican bread bakery, Yeast of Eden. There she found a good friend in the bakery’s owner and the rest of the women who loved bread as much as she did that they also wanted to learn the secrets of baking it.

But as she became more involved in the community she also found out some secrets. One husband and wife were trying to bully the people on their street to make changes in their houses to suit the historicalness of that block. This couple has also been breaking into houses looking for something but no one knows exactly what.

Ivy has also met a man who co-owns a shop across from Yeast of Eden and is threatening the bakery’s owner.

And she’s also met her first true love who left Santa Linda when he and Ivy were dating when they were teens thus breaking her heart. He has returned to California to help his mother in running their family restaurant after his father died.

At the first bread baking class one of the women gets a phone call and excuses herself to take it. A few minutes later she is found dead in her car, poisoned according to the police. Everyone is devastated with their friend’s murder and Ivy, the bakery owner, and another women, decide to investigate. But the investigation makes a big turn when Ivy discovers that somehow the death of her mother, six months earlier, is connected to this recent murder. Was Ivy’s mother intentionally killed to cover up something? No one knows for sure but now, more than ever, Ivy is going to find out the truth no matter what anyone says, even if it puts her life in danger.

“Kneaded to Death” by Winnie Archer is the first in the Bread Shop Mystery Series and let’s just say I’ll be reading the second. This is a good cozy with a complicated murder mystery. The plot line is well thought out and the characters are great especially Yeast of Eden’s owner and her sisters.

Ms. Archer did a terrific job in making readers to first not trust some of the suspects and then having us change our minds about them. And even when you find out what actually happened you don’t hate the murderer.

I’ve read my fair share of cozies and have seen main characters baking cakes, cookies, and donuts but never a bread baker. I liked it. Who doesn’t like bread? Author Winnie Archer knows her bread and describes the bread and the baking techniques so beautifully I wanted to run out and take a bread baking course while stuffing my face with a crispy baguette.

“Kneaded to Death” is one good story and shouldn’t be missed especially if you’ve read your share of cozies like me. The story is good, the writing is excellent, and the plot is complicated enough to keep you wondering what happened and why. Don’t miss out on this novel.

Guru Bones (A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery) by Carolyn Haines

Guru Bones (A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery) by Carolyn Haines

Zinnia, Mississippi private investigator, Sarah Booth Delaney, is not thrilled when her friends coerce her into going to a spa and a lecture by health guru, Priya Karsan. Sarah Booth likes her sugar, salt, and all things not healthy so this was the last place she wanted to be. But off she unhappily goes to The Club where the event will take place.

When she and her friend, Cece Dee Falcon who is the society editor for the Zinnia Dispatch, get there they see The Club manager, Jasper Pew, running outside asking anyone to call the police because someone was killed in the kitchen. Sarah Booth runs in and sees a woman hanging upside down with some kind of chemical on her and she’s told that the dead woman is the food guru herself, Priya Karsan.

Priya has been lecturing about the dangers of some foods and campaigning against the herbicide NoRoots that has put Gyndrex Chemical Corporation in the red. Could this chemical corporation be so angry that they would have her killed? It’s possible because Cyrus Angler, a farmer and opposer of Gyndrex, had a crop duster crash into his pumpkin field that very same day. The plane was spraying a herbicide made by Gyndrex. Since food crops weren’t treated aerially Sarah Booth find the crash to be very suspicious.  

Cyrus asks Sarah Booth and her partner in the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Bellcase Richmond, to investigate what happened in his field. There’s nothing that Sarah Booth and Tinkie like more is to investigate, get into trouble, and with the help of their pets solve every murder. So off they all go ready to get to the bottom of these events.

There’s also a nice little twist towards the end that was very interesting and great for for the story.

“Guru Bones” by Carolyn Haines is a 72 page novella and is just as wonderful as the previous 15 plus books she’s written in this series. Yes, I’m proud to say that I’ve read every one of them. Sarah Booth and Tinkie are just as wild and crazy as they’ve always been and their pet dogs and cat are right there by their side making sure the humans don’t do something silly like having the bad guys murder them.

I do want to mention something about author Carolyn Haines. She’s very interested in history and all her books all have some historical background in them. Usually the readers learn the history by the ghost, Jitty, who haunts Sarah Booth. Jitty appears as as historical figures to Sarah Booth thus helping her to figure things out.

Ms. Haines is also a true animal lover which is why, I suspect, all the pets in the Sarah Booth books are almost like super heroes. The animals don’t have any special powers and the things they do to help is just what other pets would do out of love but with a touch more. I like these little guys.

You’ll enjoy “Guru Bones” if you’re a fan of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery Series already and if you haven’t started the series yet  I strongly suggest you do so as soon as possible.

To see other reviews of Carolyn’s books go to Carolyn’s section in my blog.

 

Kiwi Lime Surprise Murder: A Donut Hole Cozy – Book 40 (Donut Hole Cozy Mystery) by Susan Gillard

Kiwi Lime Surprise Murder: A Donut Hole Cozy – Book 40 (Donut Hole Cozy Mystery) by Susan Gillard

Everybody needs a vacation every so often and Heather Shepherd surprises her baking assistants with a vacation after all their hard work baking donuts. Off they went from Hillside, Texas to sunny Key West, Florida to swim, sail, eat a lot, have lots of fun, and maybe think of some new kinds of donuts to bake.

Florida is one steamy state but Heather and her assistants are used to the heat in Texas but Florida’s weather seems to be worse. So one night Heather leaves her hotel room to get a breath of steamy air when what does she find but a dead body. No matter where she goes there’s always a murder that she needs to investigate.

This victim is a woman lying beside a pool with blue-gray jelly blobs next to her. The woman,  Daphne Wilder, is a waitress from the hotel and it looks like the murder weapon of choice was jellyfish. She went into anaphylactic shock after being stung several times. But how did these potentially deadly jellyfish get to the pool? Obvious someone wanted Daphne dead. But who and why?

Key West police Detective Smith is sure that he and his department can solve this murder without Heather and her her assistant Amy Givens’ help but Heather and Amy aren’t so sure about that. Heather has been working with the Hillside Police Department for quite some time helping to solve murders there and she knows that she can help Detective Smith. After all, Heather is really good at finding bad guys. She’s also a witness of sorts in this murder because she’s noticed a dangerous looking strange man hanging around the hotel.

Even though the detective doesn’t want Heather’s help that isn’t going to stop her from investigating just the same. She’s already discovered where the jellyfish came from and has even found a suspect or two. Nothing will stop Heather until she finds out who the killer is.

“Kiwi Lime Surprise Murder” is the 40th book in author Susan Gillard’s Donut Hole Cozy Mystery Series and of course it’s another winner. Like all the previous installments it’s chock full of fun and likable characters. The story line is short and sweet and easy to follow. Another good book to hunker down with on a snowy cold winter’s day and read about Florida, a good murder mystery, and a new yummy donut.

To see other reviews of Susan’s books see Susan’s section on my blog.

“I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.”

 

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #2) by Susan Bernhardt

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #2)  by Susan Bernhardt

Kay Driscoll and her husband Phil are about to celebrate their first Christmas at Sudbury Falls. They have parties to attend, a party of their own to host, their sons are coming in for a holiday visit, and one of their sons will be celebrating a birthday just after Christmas. Needless to say Kay has a lot to do. Christmas presents have to be bought, birthday gifts have to be found, decorations have to go up,  and Kay is loving every moment of these hectic days especially since hubby, Phil, will be home with her for the entire week. Kay is in bliss until … yes, there’s always an “until.”

While attending a holiday party at the Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home Kay and the rest of the guests watch as Les Hollings, a caretaker, eats some food, starts to choke, falls to the ground, and dies. Les was allergic to peanuts and somehow peanut butter got into this food thus killing him.

The retirement home swears that they don’t use any peanut butter since some other guests have the same allergy. Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie had catered some of the food and Marissa said she didn’t use any sort of peanut product in the dishes that went to the retirement home. So how did the peanut butter get into Les’ food and no one else with a peanut allergy had problems? Well, that was obvious to Kay. Les was murdered for some reason.

With a little persuasion Kay agrees to investigate the murder not that she’s a detective but she did help solve a previous murder during Halloween. Husband Phil begs her not to get involved and the Sudbury Falls police chief especially doesn’t want her involved but what they don’t know can’t hurt them even though she herself just might be hurt in the process. But Kay starts her own investigation anyway with a little help from her best buds Elizabeth and Deidre.

“Murder Under the Tree” by Susan Bernhardt is the second book in the  Kay Driscoll Mystery Series. “The Ginseng Conspiracy” is not only the first in the series but also Ms. Bernhardt’s first novel. It was terrific but “Murder Under the Tree” far surpasses it. It’s almost like the author got into her natural writing groove. Her skills are sharper and seems to lack the fear that she might have had about pleasing her publishers and readers with her first novel. Here she’s obviously writing from her heart. The party scenes and Kay’s home life descriptions are just about perfect and far from boring. I especially enjoyed the way she spoke about Sudbury Falls and how the community was gearing up for the Christmas Season. It made this Jewish New Yorker wish she lived in a small town and participated in all the Christmas activities and decorations. Big kudos to Susan Bernhardt for coming so far in her skills to write what she obviously felt and throwing her fears to the wind.

Now for the mystery portion. It was good. There were lots of suspects and you never really knew who the killer was until close to the end. Although I did start to suspect before Ms. Bernhardt gave the murderer’s name. The characters are enjoyable and well thought out. There’s a nice twist at the end when one of the character’s made a surprise discovery. That part was kind of nice and heat breaking too.

One thing was left up in the air and I read the last few pages a few times to make sure I didn’t miss it. The characters did talk about this missing aspect so I’m wondering if that will be answered when I read the third book which I have in my Kindle.

Will cozy lovers like the Kay Driscoll series? Sure, although it isn’t really a cozy even though some of the basics for a cozy are here. Mystery lovers will take to it because Ms. Bernhardt’s books are wonderful thrillers too.

And while I’m at it, I want to suggest that Susan add some recipes to her books. She talks a lot about food and I’d like to see a recipe or two. What can I say? I like food.

Do yourself a favor and start the Kay Driscoll mysteries. You’ll then see for yourself how a writer progresses from being good to incredible.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.

 

 

Iced Under (A Maine Clambake Mystery #5) by Barbara Ross

Iced Under (A Maine Clambake Mystery #5) by Barbara Ross

Winter has come to Busman’s Harbor, Maine and to say it’s cold and snowy would be an understatement. Julia Snowden and her family run the Snowden Family Clambake Company which takes tourists on a clambake cruise to Morrow Island where everyone enjoys a real Massachusetts clambake. But a clambake is out of the question during a Maine winter so Julia and her mom, Jacqueline, are spending time together waiting for Julia’s sister, Livvie, to finally give birth. It’s been a long pregnancy.

One day, Jacqueline receives a package in the mail and when she and Julia unwrap it they find a 70 caret black diamond necklace worth $2 million dollars. Jacqueline knows that it belonged to her great grandmother but it went missing in 1920. The necklace was named “The Black Widow” and rumor had it that a maid stole it during a large party. Who possessed it all this time and why was it sent to Jacqueline?

Julia did some research and discovered that her mother had family living in Boston. After making sure that the necklace was safe in a deposit box at Busman’s Harbor, Julia drives to Boston to try to meet her relatives and figure out who sent the “Black Widow” to her mother.

In Boston she meets her newly found cousins and finds out a lot about her family’s history including cousin Hugh, who died just before Julia’s arrival. Hugh and Jacqueline were very close when they were younger but Hugh mysteriously disappeared during Jacqueline’s 21st birthday party. The police were called and there was search for Hugh but he was never found. Everyone believed that he drowned. But now it’s decades later and Julia discovers that he was alive all this time and never contacted his favorite cousin, Jacqueline.

Making things even more upsetting is that the police think that Hugh was murdered and did not die from the sickness that was killing him. But who would have murdered him? Hugh was in the house with the rest of his family and had been ill for a while and was dying so why would a family member want to murder him? Julia thinks the “Black Widow” might be a part of it all. There are too many questions that need answers and Julia plans to find those answers even though her life might be in danger.

“Iced Under” is the fifth and the best in the incredible Maine Clambake Series by Barbara Ross. I’ve been a huge fan of Ms. Ross since I read the first Maine Clambake book and I’m constantly looking for the next one in the series to be released.

Usually the books take place in Busman’s Harbor or Morrow Island where the clambakes are held but here most of the story is in Boston and not in Maine and I liked that. Don’t get me wrong, all the characters and stories that Ms. Ross has in Busman’s Harbor are wonderful but I enjoyed seeing how Julia handled herself away from the people and the area she feels most comfortable in.

I’m not sure what genre the clambake series belongs to. I’m going to say that maybe it’s a cozy but much more than a cozy. I put Susan Bernhardt and Susan McBride’s books in the same category because their books aren’t really cozies either. These three authors write a story with some meat on them, something you can sink your teeth into. These women are true authors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a cozy lover from way back. There are times I need a fun book involving a baker who turns into a private investigator in between baking donuts. And there are some wonderful cozy writers out there but there are also times when I want a good book that doesn’t rely too much on, for a better word, fluff.

Barbara Ross’s books are different. Like Ms. Bernhardt and Ms. McBride, Ms. Ross has some “meat” in her stories. You can tell that a lot of research goes into the plot lines and her characters are not two dimensional. They are very solid and well thought out. I’m not just talking about Julia, the protagonist, but every person we meet in Busman’s Harbor are real people. I appreciate all the thought that the author puts into this series. The stories are filled with thought and Ms. Ross directs her characters to exactly where she wants them to go to create a great page turner.

Barbara Ross is a true writer and storyteller and definitely should be read by all book fanatics.  “Iced Under” is s gem in this wonderful series. I cannot wait until the 6th installment comes out and I hope that Ms. Ross includes some, if not all, of the new family members in future books in this series.

 

 

A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mystery by Susan Bernhardt

A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mystery by Susan Bernhardt

Former ballerina, Irina Curtius, lives on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York. Everything that the great city has to offer is at Irina’s fingertips; museums, restaurants, galleries, not to mention the beautiful Central Park. There’s no reason for Irina not to be ecstatic about her home and she isn’t. New York City is the perfect place to live.

For the past 20 years Irina has been teaching ballet to little girls in her studio, Little Cygnet’s Ballet Academy, with her college friend, Jerome, playing the piano for the school. Irina loved her professional career but she loves teaching the little ballerinas and watching them progress.

Her condominium is an ivy covered brownstone on West 87th street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue built during the late 19th century. The rooms have beautiful crown moldings, the windows are large, and yes you can hear the traffic on the streets but so what? The city itself never sleeps and its inhabitants like to be as active as the city.

Irina has some nice neighbors too. Her best friend, high school English teacher, Margarite, lives in an apartment right down the hall with her cat Gypsy; Celeste who lives on the floor above; and Stephen Kramer, his wife Tricia and Tricia’s sister mystery writer, Alice, live on Irina’s floor. But something has changed with the Kramers.

Irina, Stephen, and Tricia always got along well but since Tricia’s sister Alice moved in the dynamics kind of changed. First of all Stephen started to look ill. He still manages to go to work where he’s up for a promotion and to play racquetball with his business associate, Alex Rankin, but Stephen looks very bad and Irina is quite concerned about his health. The strange thing is that whenever Stephen leaves town for business he returns looking fit and healthy but as he stays home he gets sick again. Tricia, his wife, says he has the flu and her sister, Alice, gets very annoyed at Irina whenever she inquires about Stephen’s health.

But life goes on and Irina, with the sneaky ways of friends Margarite and Jerome, is soon reunited with her college boyfriend, Robert. Forty years earlier Irina and Robert were living together and just before they graduated college he broke her heart and ran off to marry one of Irina’s friends. Irina was a little annoyed with her friends for interfering and isn’t sure if she wants to take up with Robert again.

So there’s a lot going on in Irina’s life but things get more hectic when a rash of burglaries breaks out in her neighborhood and then neighbor, Stephen Kramer, is found dead in his apartment by wife, Tricia.

This is all way too much for Irina and she feels guilty that she didn’t press Stephen to see a doctor. But she also feels that his death is very suspicious. Stephen was a young man and healthy, as long as he wasn’t living at home, and excited about his potential promotion at work. So when irina’s Police Lieutenant friend, Charles Whitney, tells her that Stephen’s death is being ruled as a suicide she decides she has has to find out the truth because she suspects that Stephen was murdered.

“A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is yet another great novel by Susan Bernhardt. Susan lives in Wisconsin so I wondered just what she knew about New York City. Since I’m a native New Yorker which means I’m always ready to fight any outsiders who think they know enough to write about the New York I read this book with my boxing gloves on ready for a good brawl with Ms. Bernhardt. It never happened.

Everyone writes about the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, the Empire State building, that’s easy, just Google those popular sites and you have all the information you need just by sitting in bed in your pajamas but Susan’s description of Manhattan was different.

She not only described the Upper West Side to perfection with its neighborhood stores and the pre war apartment buildings but she somehow got the feel of what living in New York is all about. Every neighborhood is its own country and every apartment building is its own city. Apartment buildings actually do have “mayors” who people go to when they need someone to talk to and I’m not talking about a condo board. And walking from one neighborhood to another you kind of need a passport to pass through with people watching any strangers who pass by their buildings.

Most writers who don’t live in New York don’t get that but somehow Ms. Bernhardt did. “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is like a love letter to this great city and it’s obvious that the author respects New Yorkers and how we live here.

But I’m here to talk a little about the book and not New York, even though New York City is a huge part of this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.” You think you know what’s going on with the murdered Stephen, most avid mystery readers would catch on fast and Ms. Bernhardt doesn’t try to hide it from her readers but how he was killed is not the reason to continue reading the story. It’s not the how but the “why” and the “who” about his death that forces you to read to the last page.

Then there’s Irina’s personal life. There were times I felt like screaming into  my Kindle telling Irina to stop being such a nice person and get rid of someone in her life and to look to another instead. You will also get really angry at some of the characters and want to slap them around. Sorry about my violence towards a book character but I am a New Yorker and we all have a teeny bit of violence in our genes.

The author talks a lot about food here as she does in all her books and fans of Ms. Bernhardt will get a good insider laugh or two as they read “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.”

I’d love this to be turned into a series and I have a feeling that Susan Bernhardt just might do that. But Irina has to go over the bridge and visit Brooklyn for her next adventure. Come to Brooklyn, have someone poisoned at Nathan’s Famous, then have the suspect chased to Coney Island where they try to lose Irina on the Wonder Wheel, and then on to the Aquarium to swim with the sharks, and finally to The Brooklyn Cyclones Baseball team to get lost in the crowd. All these sites are within walking distance of each other so a good chase scene would be realistic and doable in a few hours. Maybe I should write a book.

You’ll have a great time reading “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” and will not be disappointed in this excellent story.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #1) by Susan Bernhardt

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery #1) by Susan Bernhardt

 

The other day me and my best friends, Kay, Elizabeth, and Deirdre were on our way to Marissa’s Patisserie to partake in some of her delicious baked goods. Who’s afraid of calories? Not us. We walk everyday but go to Marissa’s only two or three times a week. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat. As we were walking Kay was telling us about what happened to her just before the big Halloween party in our town, Sudbury Falls. Her adventure had Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I speechless which is saying a lot.

Here’s what happened – Kay was on her way to the Halloween party that night when she happened to see someone dressed in a costume but not going in the direction of the party. So naturally Kay was wondering if there was a pre-party festivity going on so she followed that person to find out. Then she saw another person dressed in the same costume going in the same direction, away from the party location and sneaking into the back of an abandoned store.

Kay tiptoed in and saw six people, all in the same costume, standing in a circle around a man lying on the floor. Was that college professor Sherman Walters the group was surrounding? Was he sick? And did Kay recognize some of the voices of the people in the costumes? Al Stewart who worked at the post office? And was that Bill Murphy, Deputy Chief of Police of Sudbury Falls standing there looking at Sherman and not trying to help?

Well, our Kay is no dummy and thought she walked into some kind of strange movie starring Tom Cruise so she ran out of the store post haste. But the group heard her leave and gave chase after her. Good thing it was dark and she was faster than she thought she was and weaved in and out like a football player until she got back home hoping no one saw her. Now what was she going to do? She had to meet her husband, Phil, at the party and Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I would be wondering where she was. Plus it would look strange to the rest of Sudbury Falls if she didn’t show up especially if one of the people who hurt Sherman ended up at the party.

Kay knew she had to go if for anything else to see if she could figure out why Al and the Deputy Chief of Police were in the back of that store with the professor on the floor. Maybe she’d be able to figure out who the other costumed people were.

Well, Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I were fascinated by what Kay was telling us. We were also very afraid because the day after the Halloween party, as the three of us were taking out daily walk, we found the body of Sherman Walters, last seen by Kay lying on the floor surrounded by some suspicious people, lying by the edge of the river. He was dead and Dr. Anders, the county coroner, determined that Sherman died from accidental drowning. Drowning! Accidental! No way! He might have been drowned but the four of us were sure that it was not an accident. The professor was unconscious but alive when Kay saw him with the group the previous night. Something strange was going on in Sudbury Falls. We were all positive that the professor was murdered and no one was getting away with murder in our town. With Kay at the helm of the investigation, we were going to figure it all out even if it killed us. Which just might happen.

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t really there, I was reading the book, “The Ginseng Conspiracy” by Susan Bernhardt but I kind of wished I was with Kay, Elizabeth, and Deirdre which means that Susan Bernhardt is one good writer. Talk about drawing the readers into a story. The mystery is solid and even though Ms. Bernhardt intentionally lets the readers know who some of the bad guys are we don’t know who all of them are and that’s where the surprise factor comes in.

The storyline is nicely woven with nary a stitch out of place and there are quite a few tense moments where you can’t read fast enough to see what’s going to happen next.

There are some wonderful characters in the book which you easily become attached to. You know their strong points and their quirks which makes you almost want to scream at them for telling the wrong person some information. Elizabeth has such a big mouth sometimes but we all love her nonetheless.

Sudbury Falls is one of the main characters too. Did you know that it’s the ginseng capital of the world? I bet you didn’t but author Susan Bernhardt says it is so I believe it. It’s also a nice small town to live in. The people are friendly if you don’t count the Deputy Chief of Police, or the postal worker, and maybe a few others but most of the inhabitants are nice people. They’re all willing to help a friend out even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.

There are lots of bad guys in “The Ginseng Conspiracy” and thankfully for Kay and her friends there are lots of good guys too. Take a trip to Sudbury Falls, hang out with the group, eat at Marissa’s Patisserie and save me some of her cranberry streusel tarts. They go so well with a good murder mystery.

For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.