Book Talk on a Thursday: Behind the Frame

I’ve reviewed several Hallmark romance books, but this is my first mystery.
Savannah Shepherd left her art curator job in Chicago to return home and teach art in the village of Carson. She has a developing romance with a local doctor and she’s planning a big art festival. She gets drawn into solving a murder when a town councilman is killed and a chef is arrested. Savannah and her two sisters work together to clear the innocent chef.
This is a typical small town, amateur sleuth, cozy mystery. The fact that all three sisters’ names begin with the same letter made it a bit confusing until they could be sorted out. They are different characters though, with different jobs and lives and traits, so that helped.
The mystery was good, with enough red herrings mixed with the clues to be suspenseful. The murderer was unmasked and caught “off stage,” which is an odd choice. I prefer to see the bad guy get caught myself. I enjoyed the small town setting and the characters. The mystery wasn’t particularly compelling, and the writing is okay. This is the second book in a series, but reads fine as a stand alone.

I was given a free advance copy of the book from Hallmark Publishing, but that did not induce me to review the book, favorably or not.

Book Talk Tuesday: RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER

RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER by Sally Andrew is a change of pace from J.D. Robb and Harlan Coban. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books with a smidgen of Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz mysteries, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER is an excellent debut book.

RFLAMTold from the first person point of view of Maria van Harten, a cooking columnist in Ladismith, South Africa, the story is heavy with descriptions of meals and food, but the mystery is compelling too.

Maria is called Tannie (Auntie) Maria by her friends. She’s a fifty-something widow whose husband abused her. She’s content now to be alone with her chickens, her column in the local paper, her cooking, and her friends.

The paper’s editorial staff decides to ditch the recipe column and replace it with an advice column, so Tannie Maria finds herself having to dispense wisdom to the lovelorn. She sees a need for a recipe in each answer, but the advice is sound and the recipes yummy.

One letter, from an abused wife, strikes Tannie Maria hard. When a woman is found dead soon after, Tannie Maria is certain her husband killed her. She soon learns the case is much more complicated.

Tannie Maria and the paper’s investigative journalist, Jessie, get drawn into the mystery, attracting the killer’s attention.

I enjoyed this one very much. The story moves a bit slower than I’m used to in American mysteries, but the writing is lovely and the story is compelling. The mystery is a fair-play, with clues and red herrings; challenging but not impossible or implausible.

I’m a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith and Precious Ramotswe, so I was somewhat used to the slower pace of the South African storytelling. The chapters are short, which made it easy to keep turning pages and thinking, “Just one more.”

Probably technically, a cozy, since the book includes recipes and humor, but there is some blood and death, making it a PG instead of a G rating.

Tannie Maria is a worthy addition to the halls of amateur sleuths/cooks, and I look forward to reading her next adventure. And to follow her developing romance with a certain police detective.