Genre: Mystery: Cozy/Amateur/Culinary

Tuesday, January 22, 2013; 9:45am to 12:00N at the Beebe Library in Wakefield 

 Mystery: Cozy/Amateur/Culinary Assignment for January 22, 2013:

Benchmarks: Joanne Fluke’s The Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery

Read 2nd title in the Mystery: Cozy/Amateur genre. It can be any amateur sleuth—culinary is only one possibility if you wish to explore others.

Appeal to be read for January meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about the characters and plot.

Please post your RA review of your 2nd Psychological Suspense Fiction & 2nd Mystery choices on this Blog: Submit 2nd title info.

Handouts—from John Charles’s The Mystery Readers’ Advisory The Librarian’s Clues to Murder and Mayhem (2002) (54-58); Gary Niebuhr’s Make Mine A Mystery II (2011) (1-2) & Joyce Saricks’s The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2009) (213-218).

MEETING NOTES by Tatjana Saccio

In attendance:  Leane, Jan, Tatjana, Shelley, Becky, Sandra, Tricia, Michelle, Sarah, Christine, Cindy, Stefanie, Maureen, Laura, Louise, Rachel, Diane, Eileen.

In general RA news: Diane, Jan, Nanci and Leane continue to fight for sign ups on the MLS CE calendar…

Shelley is working on RA regional programs for the future with MLS and others from the state.

Leane proposed spending some time on a speed reading exercise for trying to read a book you don’t personally like or want to read at another meeting.  Perhaps in May.

Discussion/suggestions on this RA Round Table’s path/genres for the next two years:Extend the time of the meeting?  Tricky because of desk coverage.    

Diane shared a list of genres/subgenres to explore and others chipped in with further suggestions (YA Graphic Novels, genre blending, sci-fic and fantasy as a bridge to other genres)

Do more in-depth genre studies?  Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, historical fiction would all be good genres to expand to further in-depth studies.

Discussion on the Mystery: Cozy/Amateur/Culinary Benchmark

What makes a mystery a cozy?  Small town or village atmosphere; familiar character(s); a sense of returning back home; a safe read; a sure “bet” (you know what you are going to get); light; sitcom-like/episodic

Thoughts on Joanne Fluke’s The Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery (Benchmark Book): small town USA (supposed to be in Minnesota, but not very place-specific; Sparklette’s water is very Southern CA; characters weren’t as developed as they could be; some relationships (sister) were confusing; uneven series; gaps in the novel were not bridged well; met the requirements for a cozy; this first title was setting up the characters for future books.  You have to be in the mood to stretch your boundaries and suspend your disbelief while reading a cozy.

Second Titles:

Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis  (Diane)

Not really a culinary mystery, but still plenty of yummy food talk.  Chatty, contemporary, sense of place, many characters and plot lines.  Domestic Diva series.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Rachel)

Setting is important (Britain); young main character who is charming and eccentric; interesting sub-culture of stamp collecting.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (Eileen)

            Character-driven—the delightful, eccentric Mrs. Pollifax.  Classic series mystery.

The White House Pantry Murder: an Eleanor Roosevelt mystery by Elliot Roosevelt (Laura)

Historical fiction written by Roosevelt’s son about Eleanor Roosevelt helping the secret service to solve a murder.  Fun, light, and short.

Busy Body by M.C. Beaton (Louise) and The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton (Tatjana)

Character-driven, eccentric, well-written, humorous, and a sense of place (Cotswolds, England)  Agatha Raisin mysteries.

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth  Duncan (Maureen)

Beautiful setting (small town in Wales), interesting and well-rounded characters.  A Penny Brannigan mystery.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (Stefanie)

Period mystery with rich detail.  Detective writer character with other quirky characters.  A mix of romance, comedy of manners, with dry British humor.  Gentle.  A Lord Peter Wimsey with Harriet Vane.

Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson (Cindy)

Culinary mystery (Goldy Bear, caterer).  First in the series.  Humorous (punny) and upbeat; less internal dialog than in the Chocolate Chip Murder; enjoyed characters. [Could be a benchmark for this genre. lme]

Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson (Jan)

#7 in the Goldy Bear series.  Well-developed characters; more serious than other cozy mysteries.  Red Flag:  abusive relationship discussed.

Death at Wentwater Court  by Carola Dunn (Christine) 

A Daisy Dalrymple mystery.  British language used may make it difficult for a casual reader; otherwise, it is a lovely read with a nice pace.

Devil’s Food by Kerry Greenwood (Sarah)

A Corinna Chapman mystery.  Setting is a small town in Australia and the main character is strong, likable and “unapologetically plump”.  The murder doesn’t seem to happen until the end but there is suspense leading up to it.  There are three plot lines, well developed characters and clever humor.

Mind Over Murder by Allison Kingsley (Michelle)

A paranormal cozy.  First in the Ravens Nest Bookstore Mystery series.  The paranormal skill is not explained; the secondary characters (an unpleasant lot) walk all over the main character overpowering her; there’s no sense of place; you can spot the murderer too soon; and the literary reference (Edgar Allen Poe) didn’t go anywhere. 

Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Tricia)

A Ruth Galloway mystery.  Galloway is a British archeologist.  Quirky secondary characters; atmospheric setting; element of suspense; and well-paced.  Amateur detective, but maybe too dark to be a cozy?

Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer (Sandra)

Setting is a small town in Vermont.  More serious than the average cozy – dark passages, and no pun-ny humor, although the author did try to keep the book a “cozy”.  Also, there was uneven character development.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (Becky)

Amateur detective, but maybe not a cozy.  Humorous; likable character in Stephanie (supposed to be, at least); and a real sense of place (Trenton, NJ).  Sexual tension between Stephanie and the two men in her life, Ranger and Joe.

Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton (Shelley)

A Vintage Kitchen mystery.  Pretty formulaic; no real sense of place (island community); the dialog is better, maybe because the author is a seasoned romance writer.  Seems like it was written to fill a niche in the market.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth by Tamar Myers (Jan)

A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery.  Takes place in a Mennonite society.  Acerbic humor; complex plot (almost too much); and a strong sense of setting (life style, small town). 

Valentine Murder by Leslie Meier

 How not to run a library!  Dated by the technology used.

Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum (Leane)

A Seaside Knitters Mystery.  Engaging, but under-developed characters.  The knitting and atmospheric seaside community and activities are done well.  Takes a while for things to happen in the plot, though.

Second TitleS — by reader

Jan Resnick

Valentine Murder – Leslie Meier
Appeal Factors: Pace – quick; Characterizations – likeable; Language – engaging, suspenseful; Story – character-driven; Tone – homespun, suspenseful; Frame – Tinkers Cove ME, 1999.

Youngish mother Lucy Stone attends her first library board meeting only to find the librarian murdered. Lucy gets to know her fellow board members and as the ‘body finder’ is in danger herself. The Maine winter exacerbates the problems of finding the killer and protecting her family. Textbook ‘how not to run a library’ and lots of perfidy on the board. Who knew libraries could be so dangerous? Several red herrings. Computer use and Internet skills are dated. #6 in the series.

NoveList pulled this as a culinary mystery from a key word search. It is not, although there is a caterer in the mix.

  • Similar authors: Susan Wittig Albert, Dorothy Cannell, Margaret Maron – Judge Lucy Knott series, Jess Lourey

Sour Apples – Sheila Connolly
Appeal Factors: Appeal: Pace – quick; Characterizations – likeable, engaging; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – sense of place, mildly suspenseful; Frame – Granford MA, western Massachusetts, 2012.

When her neighbor is murdered, orchard owner Meg Corey looks for the killer to protect her friend and then herself.

  • #6 in the orchard series.
  • Similar Authors: MC Beaton, Joanne Fluke, Jane Haddam, Jane Langton

The Grilling Season – Diane Mott Davidson
Appeal Factors: Pace – quick; Characterizations – likeable, convincing; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone –suspenseful; Frame – Aspen Meadow CO, contemporary

Goldy’s nasty ex-husband is arrested for the murder of his equally nasty latest girlfriend. Suz has lots of enemies with lots of motives. Goldy investigates to sooth her worried son about his father’s arrest and bleak future.

    • #7 in the Goldy Bear Culinary series.
    • Red flag: Goldy relives spousal abuse at the hands of her ex. Less cozy than others in the series.
    • Similar authors: Joanne Fluke, Davidson, Charlaine Harris – Lily Bard, Jody Jaffe, Jance – Joanna Brady

Leane Ellis

Death by Cashmere – Sally Goldenbaum
Appeal Factors: Character/Setting/Homespun Tone

If you knit at all—you will enjoy this “yarn” for sure. A former lawyer, Izzy Chambers, and her knitting group solve the murder of her friend and lodger, Angeline Archer, in a small Cape Ann town. The group meets in Izzy’s knitting shop: Seaside Knitting Studio or at Aunt Nell’s home where she and Ben serve hearty or organic fare and they all drink lots of wine. This is an engaging, character-driven, small village mystery with a cast of characters that the author paints in bold strokes. We get to know the knitting group and a few others but everyone else is under-defined or stereotypical; although we gradually get to know the murder victim after she dies. I am hoping other books in the series corrects this defect. Izzy and Nell are equally main protagonists in this book and it actually works. Nell being the wise, older mentor to Izzy’s city-disillusioned Izzy who is beginning again in her home town. Goldenbaum does atmospheric small seaside village well; she plots well enough (although predictable it is entertaining), and the ending is obvious but not until the last quarter of the book. I thought the pace was smooth and inviting like a leisurely stroll across a beach—but it does take a while for things to happen. But I was engrossed in the character-building of the players as well as the village, and the knitting studio itself. There was some humor and I would characterize the tone as familial and homespun—it is a gentle read even with the murder and some small amount of anxiety and suspense. As the series developed, I see romance for Izzy and others in Sea Harbor, and I hope Nell & Ben remain in the forefront, because their relationship was a joyful depiction of a real marriage that works. I picked this particular book because of the Cape Ann angle—and I was not disappointed in the descriptions of the fabricated place and allusions to real places. Much like the recipes included in Culinary Cozy this “Craft” Cozy includes a pattern for a lacy scarf highlighted in the book. First in the Seaside Knitters Mystery series. This was my first Nook HD eBook Overdrive experience and it was a good one on many levels. I would suggest this series to anyone who likes a cozy, especially those with an affinity for crafts or local settings, Culinary cozy lovers would like it as well because they eat and drink almost as much as they knit.

Shelley Quezada

A Deadly Grind – Victoria Hamilton (pseud.)
Appeal Factors: quirky characters, humor, helpful animal pets 🙂

The focus of this first in a series title by a romance writer Donna Lee Simpson. Set in an island between the U.S. and Canadian border, this vintage collectible furniture and cookware mystery allows the author to explore the Canadian-American relationship. The vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton finds a 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, in spite of protests from her older sister with whom she shares a farm house she successfully outbids the other buyers to take home the Hoosier. A murder takes place on her front porch where the Hoosier has been left overnight. The victim was killed by the steel meat grinder that is part of the Hoosier . With the help of her Yorkie Poo, Hopalong , Jaymie sets about to solve the murder. Hamilton (Simpson) includes the requisite vintage recipe for Queen’s Cake (a traditional cake served in Canada).

Stefanie Aucoin

Gaudy Night – Dorothy L. Sayers
Appeal Factors: character study, detailed settings, literary references, tone

I chose this book out of the Wimsey series because it is the most meta of the series. The story follows Harriet Vane, the focus of Wimsey’s affections, during her reunion at Oxford. Harriet is by trade a detective writer, so she is pulled into the mystery by virtue of her expertise as an author but she is basically the most amateur of the Wimsey characters. Sayers puts a lot of effort into how she describes the buildings, the atmosphere, and the knick knacks that mean so much to her characters. You can feel your heart ache when Harriet’s beautiful chess set is destroyed. Unlike most of the cozies, there is no murder, just an attempt at character defamation. The novel is definitely a period piece with a specific type of dry English humor, but it is full of little witticisms that will make sense for a broader audience. I would not recommend if someone was really interested in Fluke, but maybe someone more interested in historical mysteries, Agatha Christie or just really loves the details in the setting.

Diane Giarrusso

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards – Lilian Jackson Braun
Appeal Factors: quick pace, relationship between man and cat, timelessness, humorous

Jim Qwilleran is a prize winning reporter with a past who reluctantly takes a job in the art features department with a small city newspaper. His job: to interview artists and cover the art scene. This brings him to meet the Daily Fluxion’s ascerbic and blunt art reviewer, and his brilliant Siamese cat, Koko. Qwilleran’s twitchy moustache, not unlike a cat’s whiskers, helps him solve the mystery and support his instincts. Of course, it’s truly Koko, who solves this crime in which there are a series of murders, culminating in the murder of her owner. I think Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown’s mysteries are a good match for this. I suspect there are some good dog mysteries that would work too, but I haven’t read many of them. Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries might fit the bill for dog lovers. Pacing: quick and breezy Characterizations: Qwilleran and Koko are best characterized, but there are some fun stock characters in the newsroom and the skewering of art and artists is fun. Qwilleran has a bit of the hard-boiled in him, but tempered by his gentle, new found relationship with the imperious but loving Koko. Language/Style: authentic and timeless. (I was stunned to find this book first published in 1966–it felt very contemporary to me). Great descriptions of cat behavior! Tone/Mood: Comfortable, a bit suspenseful, humorous and nice relationship building Frame: Details of the press room and the bar where all the work gets done! Setting seems to be a small city. Storyline: Well plotted, but it’s the relationship between Qwilleran and Koko that will keep readers returning.

The Diva Runs out of Thyme – Krista Davis
Appeal Factors: engaging, humorous, riff’s on Martha Stewart-esque entertaining, good set up for a continuing series, likeable protagonist

Sophie is a caterer with a successful business.Her arch rival is Martha Stewart on steroids and they’ve known each other since childhood. Sophie becomes the main suspect in 2 murders upon which she stumbles. How are the murders related and who else in the large cast of characters could be responsible? To make matters even more stressful, this whole thing happens during a “stuffing recipe” competition and Thanksgiving weekend. Plenty of red herrings and wrong paths in this light and fast paced cozy.

Sarah Woo

Devil’s Food: A Corinna Chapman Mystery – Kerry Greenwood
Appeal Factors: Storyline: Character-driven; Tone: offbeat; Writing style: engaging

Third in the Corinna Chapman series, this culinary mystery stands alone and features unapologetically plump, quirky baker Corinna and her almost too-good-to-be true handsome Israeli detective lover, Daniel. I thought of it as small-town Australia as I was reading and actually forgot that it is set in Melbourne. The small town feel for me came from the focus on Corinna’s ever-present, seemingly insular group of eccentric fellow apartment dwellers who regularly get together (most of them with their much-loved cats with names like Horatio and Lucifer) for drinks, snacks, advice, and assistance. And Corinna needs her small community’s help to get to the bottom of several bizarre events that are somehow intertwined: the hunt for her missing father in the throes of a mid-life crisis before her estranged mother drives Corinna to distraction, the apparent poisoning of two of her employees who will do anything to remain thin, and the strange goings-on at a nearby monastery. As she carries on with the hard but rewarding work of running a bakery while simultaneously trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings, Corinna’s thoughts and observations and her conversations with Daniel are intelligent and humorous; the pace is pretty quick with a number of twists and turns; and secondary characters are offbeat and affecting. I suspect they will be even more developed in subsequent installments which I look forward to reading.

The murder itself doesn’t take place until close to the end of the book, but we are made to anticipate it with growing dread. At the end of intermittent chapters we read such lines as, “[t]he man who was not yet a murderer contemplated the work before him and picked up a large knife.” This morphs into ever more dire statements along the lines of, “[t]he man who was not yet a murderer leaned against the wall and bit into his knuckle. It was too much. They couldn’t ask him to do it. No human could bear this. No one.” Eventually there’s the desperate inevitability of, “[T]he man who was becoming a murderer had lost his ability to switch off the dreams…. [and] the murderer fell upon his victim in a balloon of red air and light in which he kicked, screamed, punched and stabbed clumsily….” Despite the growing urgency of these disturbing pronouncements, and perhaps because of their sporadic nature, it is easy to focus on the story, the characters, and the humor and forget entirely that we are in fact reading a murder mystery. Fun stuff.

Tricia Arrington

The Crossing Places ~ Ellie Griffiths
Appeal Factors: Character, Atmospheric Setting, Forensic Archaelogy, Fast-Paced

Ruth Galloway is a forsenic archaeologist and a professor at the University of Northern Norfolk. She lives in a small cottage on a desolated saltmarsh. Most of her friends wonder why she lives in such a remote area, but Ruth did a dig  on the saltmarsh and never left. They found a henge at the edge of the marsh. She comes in contact with DCI Harry Nelson when he asks her to look at some bones they found in the saltmarsh. Nelson is big and gruff and not at all intellectual, but when he sees Ruth at the dig he’s impressed with the care she takes at the site. In his mind she treats it as someone would a crime scene. Unfortunately for him, the body is not that of a missing girl he has been looking for, but from the Iron Age.

Ruth keeps thinking about the case and wondering if there is a connection between the Iron Age body and the present missing girl. Nelson feels a connection to Ruth and  a growing respect for her and so continues to consult her on the case of the missing girl.

The characters are likeable and even though they are very different, there is chemistry between them. They have the kind of relationship that is going to get them in trouble. The secondary characters are quirky from the Viking archaeologist mentor to the druid who walks around in a purple cape and calls himself Cathbad. The setting is very important to the story it’s very atmospheric and the saltmarsh is integral to the story. This is an amateur as opposed to a cozy and there is an element of suspense. The pace is quick especially at the end. I just couldn’t put it down.

Eileen Barrett

Mrs. Pollifax series – Dorothy Gilman
Appeal Factors: Main character Mrs. Pollifax, adventure, fast-paced, fun cozy

Mrs. Pollifax is the main character in a cozy adventure/spy series that has been popular since the writing of the first book in 1966 by Dorothy Gilman. Mrs. Pollifax is an unlikely candidate to become a CIA agent, but the blue-eyed white haired elderly widow is bored with just attending gardening meetings so becomes a spy in her 60’s. Why not? In each book within the series, Mrs. Pollifax travels to far off places to complete some mission and usually gets herself into some tight situations which she always manages to escape unscathed with her unorthodox ways, wit, and charming manners. Although this is not a mystery series, people who enjoy cozy mysteries will most likely enjoy Mrs. Pollifax.

Michelle Deschene

Mind Over Murder – Allison Kingsley
Appeal Factors: Um…Pace

Clara Quinn moves home to Finn’s Harbor from New York, and is immediately roped into working at her cousin’s niche bookstore, The Raven’s Nest. In possession of the “Quinn Sense,” a paranormal, hereditary ability, Clara is asked to solve the murder of the next door stationary store’s proprietor, and is nearly killed for her efforts.

The first in a series, I found little in this slim novel to bring me back for future installments. The sleuth, Clara, is a one dimensional character overruled by secondary characters that are frustrating and/or aggravating in their own right. The paranormal element is a moot point as it is neither explained nor present, really, except for Clara to hang her stubborn on (for all of five seconds until her cousin wheedles her into using it). The setting is also a non-issue as the only indication that it takes place in a small Maine town is a gratuitous lobster roll scene. The Poe connection – aside from a bust of the author’s head being used as the murder weapon – was also underutilized. You’d be better served to point patrons towards JoAnne Dobson’s Karen Pelletier series, or for the paranormal cozy fans you might suggest Madelyn Alt’s Bewitching mystery series or Yasmine Galenorn’s Chintz n’ China series.

Becky Rowlands

One For the Money – Janet Evanovich
Appeal Factors: Characters (quirky yet lovable), tone (lighthearted), pace

The first in Evanovich’s wildly popular Stephanie Plum series, I don’t know if I would call One For the Money a “cozy” mystery. It is surely a mystery featuring an amateur “detective:” Stephanie Plum is a down-on-her luck, recently-laid-off woman about 30 years old, who manages to blackmail her cousin into hiring her as a bounty hunter. Her first charge is to bring in her former classmate, to whom she lost her virginity when she was 16, for a payout of $10,000.

While the tone is mostly lighthearted, the pace jaunty, and the characters humorous (especially Stephanie’s cheerfully unhinged grandma), there are some jarring descriptions of the rape and mutilation of prostitutes and other women that don’t seem to jibe with the rest of Evanovich’s world, and that is what stops me from calling this a cozy. However I understand that Evanovich’s later Plum books are more even. This series would appeal to readers who enjoy a rollicking pace, crazy characters and situations, and who don’t mind raunch and crude language.

Louise Goldstein

Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death – MC Beaton
Appeal Factors: female detective, cozy, witty, Cotswolds, romance, character and plot driven

Well written, witty dialogue. Appealing main character: Agatha Raisin–feisty, abrasive, and funny. Fast paced light read.

Christine Sharbrough

Murder at Wentwater Court – Carola Dunn
Appeal Factors: slow pace, interesting characters, very British dialog, medium detail

The story begins slowly, murder does not happen until Chapter 4. Dialog takes a bit of getting used to with terms like “Spiffing!” and “Spot on!” bringing the reader out of the story enough to make it disruptive. The love story is wonderful, the murder typical. A good story for the first in the Daisy Dalrymple series.