Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Feta Attraction - Susannah Hardy

Feta Attraction
A Greek To Me Mystery
Susannah Hardy
Berkley Prime Crime
“When you marry a gay man, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he leaves you.”  That opening line tells readers a lot about Georgie Nikolopatus.  What it doesn’t tell us is that she’s devoted her life to running the Bonaparte House, a historical house and restaurant owned by her mother-in-law, Sophie.  The husband in question, Spiro, is uninterested in working; as a restauranteur, or as anything else.  It doesn’t tell readers that Georgie and Spiro managed to produce a daughter who is now grown and living in Greece. 

That line does explain, quite succinctly, why Georgie isn’t too worried when Spiro disappears for a few days without a word to anyone.  He’s done this before, often.  Since he’s not any help, either in the kitchen or on the business side of things, his comings and goings don’t affect the day-to-day business.  When she starts getting anonymous emails along the lines of ‘bring it to me or you’ll be sorry,’ she doesn’t make the connection.  Finally, it becomes clear that Spiro has not disappeared under his own power; someone has him and is holding him for ransom.  That ransom is the ‘treasure’ long believed to be secreted inside the old house.  The problem is, no one has ever found it.

Once Georgie figures out the basics of what’s going on with Spiro, she makes one illogical decision after another.  She doesn’t call the police, ostensibly because she doesn’t want to upset her mother-in-law.  (There’s also the little wrinkle that the guy who runs the competing restaurant, and is courting Sophie, is found dead.  By Georgie and a friend.)  Despite her lack of any kind of investigative experience, Georgie decides to handle the whole thing on her own.  This naturally results in both hijinks and further complications.
What saves the story is that Georgie narrates it in first person.  She’s stressed and making decisions on the fly, trying to solve the immediate problem without worrying about what comes next.  The reader sees the flaws in this, but it’s easy to sympathize with her position.  Along the way, Georgie introduces the readers to a cast of characters that could make for a very solid series.  It’s a small town, but a tourist, town, meaning lots of traffic in and out; and lots of potential for future mysteries.  In the end, Georgie won me over, and I’ll be back for her next mystery.
Rating: 6
January 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27165-0 (paperback)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Chocolate Book Bandit - JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Book Bandit
A Chocoholic Mystery
JoAnna Carl

In many small towns, there are more by-appointment positions than there are people to fill them.  There’s the library board, the building board, the board to oversee this and that.  What usually happens is that the people who are willing to serve finish a term in one job and move over to another position.  Lee Woodyard has just finished one civic obligation and is thinking about taking a spot on the library board.  From what other members tell her, there’s not much to it.
All of the board members arrive for their monthly meeting except for Abigail Montgomery.  This is odd, since she’s one of the most dedicated members.  There’s some new business, including a new library director, an outside hire, Henry Cassidy.  He goes by “Butch,” naturally.  The meeting is interrupted by a shriek from the librarian on duty: she’s found Abigail, crumpled at the bottom of the basement stairs.  After checking out the scene, the police determine that it wasn’t an accident.  The stakes are raised further when there’s a second murder in the library.
This is the latest in the long-running series (THE CHOCOLATE JEWEL CASE, THE CHOCOLATE BRIDAL BASH, THE CHOCOLATE SNOWMAN MURDERS)  that centers on Lee, who works at her Aunt Nettie’s gourmet chocolate shop in a northern tourist town.  In this case, the suspects list contains anyone who was in the library during the meeting.  From there, it’s essentially an elimination game.  There’s a bit of a melancholy feel to this installment, from a subplot concerning Lee and her husband, to a now-retired high school teacher who is a legend in town, to the librarian who discovered Abigail.  Some gentle humor serves to leaven the feeling, though.

It’s quite easy to dip in and out of this series, and new readers will have no problem starting here.  The cast is quite large, but the author skillfully moves the non-participants to a safe distance, and sketches in the backgrounds of the main players.  Longtime readers will recognize names and incidents from the past; new readers won’t be lost.  With fun chocolate trivia sprinkled through the story, this is the perfect nibble for a cold winter night.

Rating: 6
November 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-46754-6 (paperback)

Friday, January 02, 2015

Spell Booked - Joyce and Jim Lavene

Spell Booked
A Retired Witches Mystery
Joyce and John Lavene
Berkley Prime Crime
It’s not easy getting older.  Eyesight is less sharp, hearing range is reduced, reflexes slow.  For a witch, even magic can wane.  Maybe not if you’re a very powerful witch.  But, for run-of-the-mill, average practicing witches, magic power begins to fade with age.  Caution must be used even when casting the simplest of spells, because it’s so easy for the magic to go wrong.  After decades together, the three witches in Molly’s coven must admit the sad but inevitable truth: the time to retire from magic is close at hand. 
But before they retire, they need to bring in new witches, to pass on their spell book and their magic.  Unfortunately, none of the three have children with magic.  They do have their eye on a possible recruit, though.  Dorothy Lane, an unassuming librarian in town, clearly has magic.  Just as clearly, she doesn’t know it.  While witches are everywhere, they hide that part of themselves from those without magic.  Even spouses and children.  Hard experience has shown this to be the safest way.  So, the ladies must contrive to meet Dorothy, broach the subject of witches, then convince her she has magic.  Oh, and ask her to join their coven.  Not too tall an order.
Olivia, an air witch, is probably the most free-spirited of the women.  She never married, but she still loves men.  In fact, when a young male witch arrives at their shop, Smuggler’s Arcane, Olivia is flirting with him in no time.  The two then leave together.  That night, Molly awakes with a start.  A ghost light is floating in her room.  The phone rings.  Olivia is dead.  Found in an alley with her throat cut, long before her time.  Molly’s husband, Joe, will be the investigating detective on the case, so she can keep her ears and eyes open.  But that doesn’t seem like doing enough, especially when they realize that Olivia’s home has been ransacked and their spell book is gone.  Both Molly and Elsie are determined to catch the killer and thief, using all that remains of their talents.
This is the first entry in a new series, and it is delightful.  These authors have a wonderful way with weaving the supernatural into what otherwise might be a regular cozy mystery so that both elements are the better for it.  Molly, Elsie, and Olivia are clearly life-long friends.  Their easy banter and familiarity with one another’s history attests to it.  They each have lives outside of magic, but have used their shop as a touchstone for themselves and other practitioners in the area.  The idea of keeping this secret from her husband has always bothered Molly, and she will reach a point where she must decide which is more important: secrecy or safety.
Magic can exciting, and it can be scary, and it’s both here.  These ladies were not powerful witches, even in youth.  They’re up against someone who is far stronger, and obviously willing to get his hands dirty. The murder happens quite early, so the focus of the plot is on solving the crime without ‘outing’ witches.  The plot has a satisfying number of twists, turns, and diversions.  The supporting cast is a varied group of individuals, many of whom I hope to see again in future volumes.  There’s a thread or two left dangling at the end of this, promising much more to come.  If you enjoy cozy mysteries written on the paranormal side, you should love this one.  (Also see their Missing Pieces Mysteries.)
Rating: 8
December 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26825-4 (paperback)