A Deadly Grind

A Deadly Grind (Vintage Kitchen Mystery, #1)A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent start for a cozy mystery series. This one involves cooking and includes a recipe. I was drawn to it because of the historical (vintage) angle. In this case, I ended up looking for pictures of Hoosier cabinets online. I always enjoy learning something in the books I read. The setting is Queensville, Michigan – a made up town on the Canadian border – named for Queen Victoria. The action centers around an annual event – The Queen Victoria tea – where locals act the parts of Queen Victoria, Albert, and Princess Beatrice. The servers wear historical maids costumes. In addition to serving at the Tea, Jaymie also does odd jobs at the next door B&B and at the Queensville Inn, which gives her access to snoop on suspicious visitors. Jaymie is single and in her 30s, so there are a couple of potential love interests that may develop in the series. Lots of local characters that also promise to be recurring. I took a few notes at the beginning, but on the whole there were not so many characters that I risked losing track of them. The plot kept me guessing with a number of potential suspects to sort out, and the ending was satisfactory. I could have given it 4 stars, but I like to give a series room to grow….

Book description: When vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton spies an original 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, it’s love at first sight. Despite the protests of her sister that the 19th-century yellow-brick house they share in Michigan is already too cluttered with Jaymie’s “junk,” she successfully outbids the other buyers and triumphantly takes home her Hoosier. But that night on the summer porch where they’ve left the Hoosier to be cleaned up, a man is murdered, struck on the head with the steel meat grinder that is part of the cabinet. Who is this stranger—and what was he doing on their porch? Does his death have anything to do with the Hoosier? As the police struggle to determine the man’s identity, Jaymie can’t help doing a little digging on her own, accompanied by her three-legged Yorkie Poo, Hopalong. But in her bid to uncover the truth about the hidden secrets of the Hoosier, Jaymie may be the one who ends up going, going…gone.

Mistletoe Murder

Mistletoe Murder (A Lucy Stone Mystery #1)Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a temp job with a mail-order company (Signals) about the same time this book was written, which brought back some memories. Read this for the small town atmosphere and the day to day lives of the characters. The plot was okay, although there were incidents (the family cat) that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the murder. In this case, it was just a contrivance to get Lucy into a dodgy part of town to get kittens, and add some social commentary. It wasn’t bad over all and there were some nice humorous moments, but it wasn’t enough to get me to read any farther in the series.

Book description: As if baking holiday cookies, knitting a sweater for her husband’s gift, and making her daughter’s angel costume for the church pageant weren’t enough things for Lucy Stone’s busy Christmas schedule, she’s also working nights at the famous mail-order company Country Cousins. But when she discovers Sam Miller, its very wealthy founder, dead in his car from an apparent suicide, the sleuth in her knows something just doesn’t smell right.

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Death at Buckingham Palace

Death at Buckingham Palace (Her Majesty Investigates #1)Death at Buckingham Palace by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love books that feature the current Queen of England as a character. Although the idea of Her Majesty collaborating with a housemaid may seem improbably silly, it is all great fun. Jane is a plucky young Canadian taking a year off from school and staying with her great-aunt Grace in England. Short of cash, and not wanting to return home to Prince Edward Island, she gets a job in Buckingham Palace. The time period is a few years after the Queen’s “annus horribilis” but before the death of Lady Diana. Lots of humor (footmen streaking naked through the palace), upstairs and downstairs intrigue, a film crew doing a documentary on life at the palace, and plenty of red herrings for Jane to sort through. I had fun searching for images of the various palace rooms on the internet to enhance my reading experience. These are books that I would reread, and I will definitely look for the others in the series. [Note: a much older Jane Bee, now married to a British aristocrat, also appears in the author’s Father Christmas mystery series (Twelve Drummers Drumming, etc.)]

Book Description: (from book jacket) Jane Bee came to Europe for adventure, only to end up with the job of a lifetime — housemaid at Buckingham Palace. Now her greatest challenge is removing gum from State Room carpets — until she comes across a nasty accident right outside the Royal Apartments. The Queen Herself has — literally — stumbled across the dead body of Jane’s good friend, footman and aspiring actor Robin Tukes, in what appears to be a suicide. But why would handsome, impetuous Robin, having just toasted his engagement to a gorgeous housemaid, not to mention his impending fatherhood, want to die? Buck House buzzes, but only Jane — and the Royal Personage known belowstairs as “Mother” — suspects foul play. At Her Majesty’s behest, Jane launches a discreet inquiry that takes her from Servants’ Hall to the highest echelons of the Palace. Yet the more Jane uncovers, the more clear it becomes that this latest royal scandal is a real killer.

Morality for Beautiful Girls

Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #3)Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved how Mma Makutsi comes into her own in this book, being promoted not only to assistant detective, but now she is also in charge of running Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and soon has Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s two lazy and silly assistants falling in line under her more disciplined hand. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is staying temporarily at the orphanage to recovery from a bout of depression, and becomes involved with the mysterious “wild boy” found out in the bush. Lots of the usual philosophical musings from McCall-Smith’s characters on the nature of morality and other aspects of life. Would have been 5 stars, but I’m not a fan of chapters alternating plot threads which he does in this book.

Book description: Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency for the concerns of both ladies and others, investigates the alleged poisoning of the brother of an important “Government Man,” and the moral character of the four finalists of the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest, the winner of which will almost certainly be a contestant for the title of Miss Botswana. Yet her business is having money problems, and when other difficulties arise at her fiancé’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she discovers the reliable Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is more complicated then he seems.

Tears of the Giraffe

Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #2)Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now this is more like it. Book #2 seemed much more tightly constructed to me. More of the plot threads were carried throughout the book to their conclusion. It is fun to see the connections between the books and the TV series. One major departure from the TV series (spoiler alert!!) is the adoption of two children from the orphan farm by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. But Mma Ramotswe takes it all in stride. There is not yet any interaction between Mma Ramotswe and her first husband, Note Makoti, so it remains to be seen if that is in a future volume or if it was added for the TV series.

Book Description: Precious Ramotswe is the eminently sensible and cunning proprietor of the only ladies’ detective agency in Botswana. In Tears of the Giraffe she tracks a wayward wife, uncovers an unscrupulous maid, and searches for an American man who disappeared into the plains many years ago. In the midst of resolving uncertainties, pondering her impending marriage to a good, kind man, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and the promotion of her talented secretary (a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, with a mark of 97 per cent), she also finds her family suddenly and unexpectedly increased by two.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tried the audiobook several years ago and just couldn’t get into it. I think the narrator’s accent was hard to understand and I couldn’t follow the rambling lack of plot. Then I watched the TV series and loved it so much I bought it. Charming, funny, with some dark drama, and wonderful photography. It made me want to know more about Botswana. I am also a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. I watched the TV show again recently with my mom, and she wanted to read the book, so I decided this was a good time to do the same. It’s still charming, but I think it lacks something of the humor and drama of the TV series. The various cases seemed more tied together in the TV series, and we had the back story of her first marriage to Note Makoti underlying the romantic tension between Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matakone. I’m continuing with the second book because the TV series did draw from more than was in the first book, and we’ll see if more of the backstory is there.

Book description: This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Eleven Pipers Piping (Father Christmas Mystery #2)Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit hefty at nearly 500 pages for a “cozy” mystery, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Burns Night. Haggis. Bagpipers. Need I say more? Like the first book of the series, I thought this was well plotted. It is complex enough that you probably won’t figure out who done it, even if the red herrings are a bit obvious. The main characters continue to grow and develop, although I still think there is too much name dropping of superfluous villagers. Yes, I had to go back to my notes of book one to help sort them out – but that isn’t entirely a bad thing. I feel like I am being immersed in a whole village. Still, there is a certain disconnect for me between the well-developed main characters and the cardboard cutouts of everyone else. This book was a lot less “work” because the extensive back story has already been laid down. And I had my notes. I love Father Tom and I’m going to expect a love interest somewhere down the line as he continues to heal from the loss of his wife. His housekeeper is a hoot, and I love the plot device of her daily letters to her mother, complete with crossed-out typos, which gives us another point of view to the goings on. I wouldn’t categorize these books as “Christian” fiction, but since Tom is a vicar, and his is the viewpoint that most of the action is filtered through, there is a certain amount of moralizing and human angst alongside his empathy and compassion. He is a man of faith despite his own tragedies.

Book Description: Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom must deliver the grace—and contend with wailing bagpipes, whiskey-laced parishioners reciting poetry, and the culinary abomination that is haggis.

As snow falls to unprecedented depths, the revelers carry on—briefly interrupted by an enigmatic stranger seeking shelter. Then Will Moir, proprietor of the hotel and a dedicated piper, inexplicably goes missing—only to be found later in the hotel’s dark tower, alone and dead from what appears to be a heart attack.

Father Tom’s own heart sinks when he learns the actual cause of Will’s demise. When word gets out, the flurry of innocent speculation descends into outlandish gossip. And, for all its tranquil charm, Thornford Regis has plenty to gossip about—illicit trysts, muted violence, private sorrows, and old, unresolved tragedies. The question is: Who would benefit most from the piper’s death? Suspicion swirls around many, including Will’s beautiful widow, their shadowy son, Will’s obnoxious brother-in-law, and even the mysterious party crasher, who knows more than she lets on about the grudges she left behind—but never forgot.