Review: Kernel of Truth

Kernel of Truth by Kristi Abott (2015).

kernel of truthAs a teen, Rebecca Anderson was known in her small town of Grand Lake, Ohio as a rebel, never in enough trouble to be put away, but in enough to be suspicious just for hanging around. She’s back now, with a culinary degree and after a failed marriage to a celebrity chef, to run a gourmet popcorn shop in a tourist-friendly part of town, but she finds that earning the respect and trust of those who knew her when—and everyone knew her when—is difficult, if not impossible.

So when her mentor, a popular chocolatier, is found murdered, it’s not long before people are whispering about her possible involvement. The suspicion is preposterous, but Becca’s fierce independent streak and minimal respect for rules keeps putting her in bad places at bad times. The person who killed her dear friend—and it isn’t her—is still out there, and she’s determined to find out who it is, to protect herself and her reputation.

Author Kristi Abbot has all kinds of fun telling us Becca’s first story. Her playful dialogue and narration had me laughing aloud several times, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to an enjoyable genre:

”As for your latest lifesaving activities, I’m pretty sure you’re protected under the Good Samaritan law.” He looked up at me sharply. “Your actions weren’t willful or wanton, were they?”

“I wasn’t aware I could be wanton pulling someone out of a vehicle.” I hadn’t been wanton in a very long time. I wasn’t even sure I remembered what wanton felt like.

“I’ll take that as a no, then.” He marked something down on his legal pad while muttering, “Not wanton.”

The mystery itself is just north of average, but the character is likeable, and she is developed well enough to make her involvement in solving the mystery more believable than most in this genre. The strength of the writing boosts it an extra half star and makes me eager for a follow-up.

4 of 5 stars.

Review: A Clue for the Puzzle Lady

A Clue for the Puzzle Lady
by Parnell Hall (2000)

The murdered body of an unknown girl is found in a cemetery in the middle of the night. She holds a slip of paper on which is written what appears to be a crossword puzzle clue, so police chief Dale Harper brings it to Cora Felton, a newcomer to Bakerhaven (Connecticut) who publishes a national newspaper column called The Puzzle Lady. Cora is a fall-down drunk with a nose for a mystery, and soon Dale, Cora, and the Puzzle Lady’s niece Sherry Carter are in pursuit of a killer who seems to be toying with them, who doesn’t stop at just one victim. An aggressive newspaper reporter with something to prove, pushy TV camera crews, a teenaged girl with a theory of her own, a violent ex-boyfriend, and a community not so far impressed with the police chief’s work race toward either uncovering the murderer or getting away with it.

In pleasantly short chapters with shifting third-person points of view, Parnell Hall creates an engaging, difficult-to-put-down story with well-defined characters in a story that’s easy to follow but difficult to predict. I’ve been on a bit of a cozy mystery bender lately, and while the genre tends toward a certain sameness (which I am not a complaining about), here is one that stands out stylistically, taking a noticeably different path to its end. While certain linguistic tics take some getting used to (there are a couple of sentence structures that drove me crazy until midway through), A Clue for the Puzzle Lady is the first novel in the genre that had me wishing I could dive immediately into the rest of the series. Although an appreciation for crossword puzzles isn’t necessary for thorough enjoyment, puzzle devotees will find an extra layer of involvement, a kind of challenge within the whodunit challenge that’s extra-engaging. And a lot fun. Highly recommended for mystery lovers.

4 of 5 stars (I really liked it).

Review: One Foot in the Grove

One Foot in the Grove
By Kelly Lane (2016)

one foot in the groveShe’s known nationwide as the Runaway Bride, a Boston public relations expert who left her popular TV weatherman fiancé at the altar in a viral video that shows her in an unflattering light. In order to get away from the flurry of media attention, Eva Knox returns to her family’s plantaion inn in Abundance, Georgia, to help run her father’s new olive grove, and to market its award-winning olive oils. Her sisters Pep and Daphne welcome Eva back, but not everyone in the small town is happy to see her: eighteen years ago, she left her first fiancé at the altar, and fled Abundance for Boston.

The last thing anyone in this story needs at this stressful time is for someone on the paid staff to be murdered right at the edge of the olive grove, but that’s what they get, and as Eva tries to sort things out, her life may also be at risk. Our heroine has a cute puppy, a handsome sheriff, and all kinds of personal issues to deal with, and because she seems remarkably resilient even while privately going through boxes of Kleenex in her cabin behind the inn, she’s easily embraced by the reader.

There’s lots of local flavor here, with enough description of Eva’s hometown and its people to give the novel all the color it needs. Author Kelly Lane mostly saves the olive oil talk for later in the series. I do want to know as much as I can about olive trees and olive oil from a character who is now immersed in this world, but I can wait, because Lane’s already won me over with good characters and a really well-paced narrative. I suspect it doesn’t take a lot to assemble the ingredients for a good series in this genre, but I know it takes a good writer to keep me engaged this well, especially given the interesting timeline the plot sticks to, which I will not spoil. I’m perfectly fine with a writer who sticks to the formula; how nice instead to find one who can really put a story together, too. More, please.