Last month I gave a reading roundup post a first try. I’m going to give it another go for April. Last month my focus seemed to be on books related to French cuisine in the middle of the 20th century. This month most of the books fall into the category of cozy mysteries.
A Cozy Mystery April:
I started back into reading detective fiction a few months ago. As a result, I discovered this whole sub-genre of detective fiction known as cozy mysteries. The cozy mystery is very much like other mystery, but the violence and the sex is downplayed. In many ways the food related mysteries I’ve been reading could be called a sub-genre of the cozy mystery sub-genre. As I go through these books, I’ll talk a little bit about some of the common elements in these as they relate to various series.
There are some similarities between the books. The one I find the oddest is that so many of the protagonists are redheads. There may be some series where this isn’t the case, but so far every series I’ve read they have been. Although I suppose that’s an improvement over the Sherlock Holmes take on redheads.
I read five of these books this month. These five books are part of three series, and I’ll start with my least favourite and work my way up to my favourite.
Lucy Burdette: An Appetite for Murder
If I had begun with my reading of cozy mysteries with this book, there is a good chance I would never read a second one. I realize this was a debut novel but there is very little that I liked in it.
First off, the plot was clunky. Often the first book in the series involves the main character being accused of a murder. The lead up to this didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The other thing that really bothered me was the food writing. As someone who writes restaurant reviews I found it laughable that anyone who writes excerpts like the ones in the book would be considered for a high profile food magazine job. I’m not claiming to be a great reviewer, but the excerpts in the book are terribly cliche-ridden.
This is a series that I would likely give a pass to it when it comes to future titles.
Spice Shop Mysteries
Another feature of cozy mysteries seems to be the presence of the main character’s ex. The ex’s in these stories are inevitably jerks, not surprising, but also inevitably, the detectives married up in social and economic terms and are the ex is always able to rub that in their faces as these small business owning detectives struggle to operate their business.
This series, like the Key West series, begins with Piper Prescott, the main character as a suspect in a murder. The unfolding story introduces us to all sorts of interesting small town southern characters. The stories are well paced and the narrative proceeds well without early and easily giving away the killer. Piper’s friend Reba Mae is a great sidekick, and the interplay between Piper and her ex-mother-in-law, has that sort of awkward, complicated nature, that makes it feel quite real.
One other I enjoy in this series is the description of the small, southern town of Brandywine Creek, where the stories are set.
This series features the popular trope of cop/love interest. Along with another popular trope of nice/dull guy competition for the cop/love interest. The stories here are pretty good. I’ll probably pick up one or two along the way.
Gourmet Girls Series:
I read the first two books in this series. Steamed, and Simmer Down.
This is another series I tried this past month. I would rate this the best of any of the series that I’ve read. Other than having a redheaded crime solver, this series does a good job of avoiding the many pitfalls that the other cozy mysteries fall into.
The Gourmet Girls series is co-written by Susan Conant and her daughter Jessica Conant-Park. One advantage to this combo is that Susan Conant is also the author of the Dog Lover’s mystery series, so she brings a veteran’s hand to this series. Another advantage in this author combo is that Jessica Conant-Park’s husband is a chef, and that really shows through in the food writing element of this series.
One of the things I like about this series is that it has a slightly harder edge to it. It certainly not a dark series, but there is a greater sense that the a murder is a terrible thing. I also appreciate this series, for the fact that it doesn’t involve Chloe Carter (consonant names are an important piece of cozy mysteries) being accused of murder in the first book. The romance is between her and a young chef, without a police officer to compete against.
I also enjoy the relationship between Chloe and her family, particularly her sister. Plus, her boss and her internship at the anti-harassment organization give the books a better grounding in reality than a lot of the cozy mysteries. This is one series that I will definitely be finishing over the next few months.
Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf
This is an older book, originally published in 2002. Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf: The Story of One Man, Two Cows, and The Feeding of a Nation, by Peter Lovenheim, tells the story of one man’s attempt to follow a cow from it’s conception to slaughter. Sparked by a visit to McDonad’s with his daughter Portrait of a Burger, gives the reader an interesting and informative look into one aspect of the American food system.
The real strength of the book is Lovenheim’s even-handed telling of the journey of the two cows. When meat eating has become such an emotionally charged topic, Lovenheim does a very good job of allowing the opportunity to make up their own minds as to whether or not eating meat is a good idea. Along with allowing people to make up their own minds, Lovenheim also does a good job of presenting the activities of the beef and dairy industrie in such away that the reader can make a fairly well informed decision.
Another strength of this book is the author’s ability to give fleshed out portraits of the people involved in the dairy and beef industries, and the communities that are supported by them. At the beginning of the process Lovenheim had said he would try not to be involved in directing the process, but as he gets to know the people and observe the life of the calves, that changes, and the book benefits for that.
The book is available on Kindle, so even if you have a problem finding a print copy, it is available for downloading and worth the time to do so.