Culinary Fiction (2016)

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew

Take a heroine like McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, a supportive circle of friends, a villain straight out of Agatha Christie, a setting as dangerous and remote as South Africa’s Klein Karoo, a host of recipes for local treats, and a budding romance, and you have Sally Andrew’s series debut.

Our story opens as Mevrou van Harten—Tannie Maria—widow of an abusive husband, dreamily stirs a pot of appelkooskonfyt (apricot jam) in her isolated home outside Ladismith.  Her editor bursts in to announce that the higher-ups at the gazette want to replace Tannie Maria’s recipe column with advice to the lovelorn, an assignment which forces her to become more involved in the community.  Fifty pages later, Mevrou is a witness in a murder investigation, weighing her chances for romance with the lead detective.  By now, we’ve been introduced to a host of colorful locals including the gazette’s daring investigative reporter, and the victim’s explosive husband and her short-tempered best friend.

The setting is at once exotic and familiar.  Much like our own Wild West, the Klein Karoo supports colorful and self-reliant plants, wildlife, and people.  It borders on Botswana, home to McCall Smith’s Mme. Ramotswe and Michael Stanley’s Detective David “Kubu” Bengu.  Our author calls it home.

Read-alikes:
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
One Foot in the Grave by Kelly Lane
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael Stanley
Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library



Too Many Cooks by Donna Bate

Too Many Cooks is a light-hearted story about a young American woman, Kelly Madigan, who takes a job ghost writing a cookbook for a movie star living in England. The novel grips the reader in its opening with Kelly’s mother’s funeral and Kelly discovering a letter written to her by her mother. In that letter her mother encourages her to find adventure in her life, to leave the Mid-west, and to not lead the average, ordinary life she lived. Kelly leaves for England to ghost write a cookbook and finds herself working for a beautiful but self-absorbed actress, Natasha Spencer, who just happens to be married to a handsome and rising Member of Parliament.

Celebrity cookbooks usually have some sort of angle to tie recipes together, but Natasha does not really want to reveal anything about her personal life to fans. She actually doesn’t know the recipes for the dishes she wants to include in her cookbook. She just expects Kelly to come up with recipes for dishes she remembers from places she’s lived.  She wants her to recreate her grandmother’s chocolate mousse, but all she knows is that it was smooth and chocolaty and had some liquor in it, or kale burgers that are toothsome and gluten free. Kelly spends days working on recipes while Natasha is away at the spa, or gym or in France with her lover. Natasha’s husband, Hugh, however is around to test the recipes and before long, there is a love affair between Kelly and Hugh.  

There are many funny moments in the story such as Kelly’s off-beat family back home and the lengths Kelly goes to in order to please her control freak boss. And there is also suspense with Natasha driving Kelly crazy with her demands to redo recipes and her condescending manner thus leaving the reader braced for Kelly to lash out at any moment. The romance between Kelly and Natasha’s husband builds suspense also. The reader can’t help hoping that the romance will turn into something permanent with the evil Natasha losing her husband to Kelly.

This book can be recommended to readers who are looking for something light and fun.  Readers who enjoy cooking will find it interesting to read about recipe preparations.  

Read-alikes:
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library



At the End of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in a muddy, stagnant swamps of Northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from the local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can only run so far, even in America, and when Robert's past makes an unexpected appearance, he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last. 

Recommend this book to adults who like historical fiction with a personal look at the lives of those headed west.

Read-alikes:
The Fugitive Wife by Peter C. Brown
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Under this Broken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Kathy Carter, Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, Retired



Three Blonde Mice by Jane Heller

Elaine and her two friends go on a Farm-to-Table vacation at Whitley Farms in the Connecticut countryside, joining eight other foodies, all eager to watch and cook with renowned chef, Jason Hill, whom they unfortunately find out is a rude, coke-snorting, boor.

About half-way through the week’s stay on the farm, Elaine is perusing the items in her Whitley Farms tote bag and finds a letter threatening to kill the chef during the Saturday’s Bounty Fest finale. She goes to the Whitley Farms manager, who doesn’t believe the threat. The police also don’t believe the threat. Therefore, it’s up to Elaine and her friends to stop the murder.

This is an easy, summer beach-read that one can blow through in an afternoon. It is also easy to put down. Only one character grew/changed, and that was Simon, Elaine’s ex, a minor character.  I can’t determine whether this book is satire or not. The jokes were not funny; the mystery was silly. None of the characters have any depth – they were all over-the-top caricatures. The reader can’t begin to question who the murderer might be, as they don’t have enough information on any of the suspects. There is a little romance between Elaine and another guest, Jonathan, who might be the murderer, but there is never any sense of danger or suspense.

Three Blonde Mice is the second book concerning the three friends, Princess Charming was written in 1997 and is about a hitman coming after one of the three friends.

Perfect for the beach or a plane ride. Check your brain at the door and enjoy, but don’t expect too much.

Read-alikes:
Mary Kay Andrews
Princess Charming by Jane Heller
Nancy Thayer

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library



All the President's Menus by Julie Hyzy

Olivia Paras is the White House Executive Chef, recently married to Secret Service agent, Leonard Gavin, in Julie Hyzy's eighth White House Chef series. There's a sequester going on at the White House so entertaining, planning and executing White House dinners has been curtailed and for the time being, Olivia is running the kitchen with only Bucky as assistant and the world-renowned pastry chef, Marcel. 

For highly-sensitive diplomatic reasons, President Hyden cannot cancel a planned visit from the first female candidate for the presidency of fictional Saardisca, where female leadership is unheard of and where dissidents to the government are harshly handled. Coinciding with the visit, the White House kitchen is hosting four Saardiscan chefs anxious to learn the secrets of organizing and presenting State dinners efficiently. 

The plot begins to thicken when Marcel passes out and later claims to have been drugged. Soon afterwards one of the Saardiscan chefs collapses and dies in the White House kitchen. Are these events merely the result of natural causes or is something else cooking? Olivia finds herself embroiled in an international mystery and true to form, she makes it her mission to find the truth and save the White House from an international incident. 

Author Hyzy convincingly conveys the atmosphere of the White House Kitchen describing the food they prepare and the relationship between Olivia and her staff. The characters are fairly well realized. An important scene takes place at Blair House, the president's guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue, details of which add to the novel's sense of place. Meanwhile, the suspense bubbles along like soup simmering on a stove. 

Recipes included.

Recommended for all readers: YA to Adult, both women and men.

Read-alikes:
Goldy Schultz Mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson Mysteries by Joanne Fluke
White House Chef Mystery Series by Julie Hyzy

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired



Dying for a Taste by Leslie Karst

After her mother’s death, attorney Sally Solari takes a leave of absence to help her father run their family restaurant. Shortly after, Sally’s Aunt Letta is found murdered in Gauguin, her own more “upscale” Santa Cruz eatery. The police immediately target Letta’s sous chef as their prime suspect, but Sally, convinced of Javier’s innocence, sets out to find the real killer, launching this first entry in what promises to be a pleasing, and colorful, new cookery/cozy mystery series. One back story of the tale concerns the contemporary issue of organic and sustainable farming and fisheries practices. A (conflicted) love interest for Sally is another plot thread, and it is all set within the beautifully described area of coastal California. Sally is an appealing heroine, witty and winsome. The story is carefully plotted, the dialogue well written, and the author “peoples” the story with many convincing characters. 

Read-alikes:
The Five Ingredient Series by Maya Corrigan
The Domestic Diva Series by Krista Davis
The Kinsey Millhone Series by Sue Grafton

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library



All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

In All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, Kat works at her aunt’s bakery making nothing but chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcakes because, to her aunt, anything else is just weird. What Kat really wants is to have her own shop. She’s gone to business school and has so many ideas, but to her family, Kat’s dreams are unimportant and she seems to be a constant disappointment. Her best friend Lucas is the only one who ever gives her the support she needs, but Kat thinks it’s only because she’s been friend-zoned and that’s what good friends do. What Kat doesn’t realize is that Lucas is in love with her just as she’s in love with him only neither knows how to tell the other for fear of ruining their friendship. When Lucas sees that the reality show Cupcake Combat is looking for new contestants, he signs Kat up without her knowing figuring this will be the ultimate gesture. What he’s not prepared for is all of the little things that seem to get in the way. Will Kat and Lucas get their happily ever after or will Lucas have to let Kat go to follow her baking dreams?

This was a cute, romantic book and an extremely quick and easy read. The reader sympathizes with Kat about the way her family treats her, wants Kat to succeed and prove everyone wrong and roots for Lucas to tell Kat his feelings so they can be together. However, the will-they-or-won’t-they story line was a little overplayed as each chapter had both main characters constantly second guessing themselves throughout the entire book. The book also had religious undertones with one of Lucas’ friends texting him scripture notes to bolster his courage and with Kat’s dad being a pastor, as well as her epiphany to “seek God’s will and ask him to guide her to his plans, in his timing.” Although the story isn’t overtly religious all the way through, there’s just enough that it may bother a reader who’d prefer it not be there or may attract a reader who’s looking for something a bit more spiritual. This book is good for readers looking for a nice, clean love story, those who like reality cooking shows and those who enjoy small-town stories with happy endings. 

Read-alikes:
The Cake Therapist by Judith M. Fertig
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughn

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library 



Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J., Ryan Stradal

As the daughter of a chef and sommelier, it is inevitable that Eva Thorvald would have a once-in-a-generation palate. After losing both her parents at a tragically young age, it becomes even more clear that Eva’s skill and palate come from her genes. Raised by her well-meaning, if not culinary-refined, aunt and uncle, this novel is very much a coming-of-age story as Eva transforms from an awkward teenager to one of the most sought-after chefs in the country.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, and while seemingly disparate from the start, all eventually connect to Eva and to the dramatic conclusion of the book. These differing perspectives tell the story of Eva’s life, dish by dish. As a middle school student, she grows hydroponic chocolate habanero peppers in her closet, which she then uses to forge a friendship with the chef at local Mexican restaurant, impart revenge on bullies at school, and develop a tolerance so high she is able to win a chili-eating contest. The teenage Eva finds herself landing an internship at a restaurant following a first date. Regular attendance at a supper club inspires twenty-something Eva to make a key career move and start hosting exclusive pop-up dinner parties in remote locations that, at their height, boast a waiting list of several years and garner $5,000 a plate. The final dinner of this book draws it together to a satisfying conclusion.

Set in Minnesota, the tone of this novel is as down-to-earth as Midwesterners themselves, interlaced with a charming quirkiness. Stradal weaves Midwestern cuisine and culture throughout each of the stories to give it an authentic feel of time and place; Eva’s father is raised making lutefisk for the family; a romantic interest’s brother goes on a hunting trip; a baking competition has a category specifically for bars.

This book is a story of both family and food, and would appeal to readers who appreciate a story with relationships at its heart, as well as those with a penchant for good food, creative dining and food culture. Readers will find themselves rooting for Eva while their mouths water for her cooking. It would also make a good adult-to-teen crossover novel, and will appeal to teens following Eva’s struggles and journey.  Author Stradal has also sprinkled recipes throughout the book for the reader to try. I can vouch personally for Pat Prager’s bars on pp. 211-212. They are very tasty! Overall, a delicious read!

Read-alikes:
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Jill Wylie, Hauppauge Public Library



Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen

On the outskirts of Philadelphia, two brothers run a popular restaurant called Winesap. With a chic atmosphere and an inspired menu, Britt and Leo have successfully established Winesap in their own little corner of the world of fine cuisine. Enter their younger sibling Harry who has plans to open his own trendy restaurant. As he approaches his brothers for advice, support, and approval, Harry sparks a series of events that make up the crux of Wildgen’s novel. Sibling relations, the rivalry of competing businesses, and the politics of running a successful restaurant are fully examined in this delectable story.

The story unfolds slowly, allowing the reader to savor every passage, much as they would every bite of a tasty dish. Strong character development with realistic dialogue and character interaction, Bread & Butter is sprinkled with romance, drama, realistic sibling portrayal, and a genuine glimpse into the inner workings and culture of the restaurant business. Foodies will thoroughly enjoy the read with all of its scrumptious detail, as will those that are interested in the complexity of the relationships between siblings. Bon appetit!

Read-alikes:
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library