In its third annual “Best of…” event, Barnes and Noble did a survey of booksellers at its brick and mortar stores, asking which books they enjoyed selling the most during the year. Here’s the list of the eight top nominees that moved the booksellers and/or pointed to pivotal moments in 2021 for them. The booksellers chose among the finalists for the B&N Book of the Year (indicated in red).
Click on the titles to learn more about the books.
“Picked Off” and “Bad Pick” by Linda Lovely, continue the romp through the never-a-dull-moment world of Brie Hooker, her aunt Eva, two wannabe boyfriends, and bff Mollye. Brie is a talented vegan chef helping her staunchly carnivorous aunt Eva, at Udderly Kidding Dairy, the family goat farm. Neither Brie nor Eva will ever convince the other to switch food lifestyle choices, but they love and support each other in all other things.
Halloween is near in “Picked Off,” and Eva has agreed to hold a fundraiser – complete with a haunted barn and costumes – to support friend and candidate for governor, Carol Strong. But, instead of happy check-writing, the fundraiser ends in chaos with a bloody pitchfork assault on a celebrity football player. Who did it and why? The candidate’s enemies pepper the story with kidnapping and murder, but the multi-layered plot also delivers stalking fans, fantasy football leagues, millions at stake, betrayals, and scandals that keep everyone hopping. This page-turner is inventive, with twists and turns and a pace that never slows.
In a great touch of realism, Lovely makes a point of Eva and Brie each doing chores on this working goat farm in both “Picked Off” and “Bad Pick.” We see that no matter what or who is chasing down the culprits, there is a staff to be managed, the hours are long, and the animals are taken care of first.
Brie has inherited a house that she hopes to turn into her dream, a restaurant of her own. The plan in “Bad Pick”? Serve a tasting menu to restaurant critics to garner reviews and enthusiasm for her concept. Sounds like a good strategy, but there is a slight hitch: One of the critics dies after eating her food. What has happened? Who is to blame? Has someone sabotaged her plans or targeted the critic with blowback on Brie? Either way, the collateral damage is devastating.
In a parallel plot, Brie gets talked into holding goat yoga classes at Udderly Kidding. Goat yoga? You have to read the book to see how it works. I’d fall over laughing during the first five minutes of the first class, let alone be able to complete a downward dog position. But, locals in “Bad Pick” picket the goat farm when a misguided soul feels that playing with goats is a form of devil worship. Imagine what she thinks of an entire farm that specializes in everything goat?
Brie’s romantic life is mostly in her head, with fantasies that pop up on the page whenever she sees the two men in her life, a brewmeister and a veterinarian. “Picked Off” and “Bad Pick” each develop the relationships in unexpected, often hilarious ways – including a ‘no clothes off’ rule. Both are great matches for Brie. Big hint: I’m solidly in the vet’s camp. 🙂
Linda Lovely has written a thoroughly entertaining series, with plenty of warm, good hearted banter between the likable main characters, solid mysteries, and an expert blending of dramatic moments with comedy and cooking to lighten the tension along the way.
Here’s my review of the first book in the series, “Bones to Pick.” Read them in order: “Bones to Pick,” “Picked Off,” and “Bad Pick.” Guaranteed to make you chuckle while you puzzle over the whodunits.
Even better, what foodie/avid reader can resist a cookbook created by his/her favorite author?
The following fifteen cookbooks have been recommended by the readers of Nightstand Book Reviews as part of their literary and/or cookbook collections. The cookbooks would definitely make a fun gift to a fan of any of the authors. There are some pretty famous writers in the mix and many of the cookbooks have been nominated for awards. 🙂 If you have tried any of the recipes, please let us know in the comments.
Click on the book title to learn more about the featured recipes and where to buy the books.
Edith Maxwell writes award-winning short stories, has several series of full-length mysteries out and has been nominated for Agatha Awards in both the Short Story and Historical Fiction categories for 2017’s Malice Domestic mystery conference. At this writing, she has eleven published novels since 2012 under the names Tace Baker, Maddie Day, and Edith Maxwell, with #12 due out next month. She is working on three more to be published in the near future. She is the one of the most prolific traditionally published authors I know and she is loving all of it!
I first met Edith at a Writers Police Academy conference in the Fall of 2012. At the time, she had just published her first Lauren Rousseau title, “Speaking of Murder,” as Tace Baker. I was hooked by the intelligent, worldly, complex female lead character. She attended WPA in order to research police procedure, and also gathered tons of information about firefighters and EMS personnel that she might use in future novels.
While following her career the last few years, it’s become apparent that solid research underpins all her books. Happily, combined with her own personal experiences, the result is richly developed backgrounds and storylines.
For the Country Store series, Maxwell took a trip to Indiana in order to investigate the setting, special southern Indiana phrasing (“I can’t eat another bite ’cause I’m as full as a tick”), and foods specific to the region. As it happens, she was also returning to the area of her grad school days and the site of a university packed with her own Maxwell family history. Friends of hers in the grad program had restored an old country store and turned it into a restaurant and bed & breakfast, the basis for Robbie Jordan’s ‘Pans ‘N Pancakes’ establishment in the series. In addition, Maxwell loves to cook and there are virtual cooking lessons woven throughout the stories as well as yummy recipes to be found.
Fun fact: my mom had an amazing collection of antique cookware, so when Robbie chats about the vintage pieces in her store, I can see the tools in my mind’s eye. Maxwell/Day’s details? Wonderful!
The Local Foods series features an organic farmer as the lead character, and guess what? Edith ran her own small certified organic farm for a few years and that expertise infuses the series with effortless realism. Readers can pick up tips about what it takes to grow produce organically, both the pitfalls and the plusses, while enjoying the cleverly crafted mysteries.
The Quaker Midwife series is a project close to Edith’s heart. She is a Quaker herself and some of the history and the daily practices of the Society of Friends have found their way into this series. Maxwell now lives in Amesbury, Massachusetts where the books are set, and the local history influenced her short story writing. One of the short stories became the impetus for a 19th c. midwife character. Rose Carroll, the Quaker midwife, is perfectly placed to be a sleuth, since she gets to go where men (and the police) can’t in 1888, and hears all kinds of secrets that help solve the crimes. Beautifully written, “Delivering the Truth” is well-deserving of the Agatha historical mystery nomination this year.
Click on the link to check out Maxwell’s YouTube video of a walking tour of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Maxwell is wearing an authentic self-made 1888 dress and bonnet while she conducts the tour and chats about the sites mentioned in “Delivering the Truth.” What a fun and terrific way to launch a series!
Plus, as Maddie Day, Edith has a new cozy foodie mystery series, Cozy Capers Book Group, set on Cape Cod. “Murder on Cape Cod” will be the first title launched in 2018. The lead character runs a bicycle repair and rental shop and hosts a weekly cozy mystery book group. My dad’s family came from the Cape, and I’m looking forward to reading Maxwell/Day’s take on the region.
So, how does she keep up this writing pace and still maintain the quality in her books? First, she is doing what she loves. She has a writing schedule for each day – mornings are the best for her – but when a deadline looms, she sometimes goes away for a few days on retreat. She turns off the internet so that there are no distractions at all and she can write from dawn ‘til midnight if she needs to. When slipping away to a retreat, Maxwell likes to take along comfy clothes, walking shoes, a laptop, a favorite pen, and an actual paper notebook. Oh, and of course, wine and dark chocolate. 🙂
Maxwell writes traditional mysteries with absorbing puzzles to solve, and appealing characters that engage us on every page. With strong female leads, fascinating details, and multi-layered plots, this is an author we want to follow, wherever (or whenever) she leads us.
Read the review of “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” (Local Foods series) here.
Read the review of “Grilled for Murder,” (Country Store series) here (written as Maddie Day)
Read review of “Delivering the Truth” (Quaker Midwife series) here. 🙂
“Delivering the Truth” has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery. And “The Mayor and the Midwife” has been nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story. Read the short story here.
Robbie Jordan’s restaurant/country store, ‘Pans ‘N Pancakes’ has been open for six weeks in Maddie Day’s “Grilled for Murder.” Robbie specializes in selling vintage and unusual pans which double as decorations on the walls, but it’s her food that really packs in the locals for breakfast and lunch.
Robbie (short for Roberta) has agreed to cater a welcome-home party for Erica, apparently not well-liked by anyone except her own family. Even they’re not crazy about her. The party goes off almost as planned, complete with tasty food and more than a little drama between Erica and nearly everyone else.
Robbie lives in an apartment in back of the store and comes out to set up in the morning, only to find the guest of honor from the night before, dead on the floor. Next to the pickle barrel. When the barrel is emptied in order to look for evidence, I knew that I would never look at a pickle the same way again. Who killed Erica and why? Considering said drama at the welcome-home party, there is certainly no shortage of motivated people.
“Grilled for Murder” flows nicely between the mystery, the country store, the romance in Robbie’s life and the wonderful people that form the core ensemble. Her aunt Adele is the former Mayor, Buck is second in command at the police department and probably eats more than all her other customers, Phil is her dessert maker and close friend, Abe and his son Sean are new in Robbie’s life and will probably stay around a while. With their small-town friendliness and genuine support for each other, these are people with whom you’d like to spend a lot of time.
As the lead character in a cozy series, Robbie Jordan is a great one. Robbie is an athletic young woman, prefers to walk or bike if she can, wears colorful comfortable clothes, and has worked hard to live her dream. It’s her nature to listen and pay attention during conversations and she loves solving puzzles, so she’s a natural for amateur sleuthing. Her skills also include carpentry – she did most of the renovation work herself to get the place exactly the way she wanted it. Robbie’s knowledge and curiosity about vintage tools play an important role in identifying the killer and despite her petite size, she is no timid soul.
Maddie Day transfers her own love of cooking to Robbie’s character and we are treated to her techniques throughout the book, whether Robbie is in the restaurant or cooking for herself. I kept getting up to have a snack while reading “Grilled for Murder.” Cheese bubbling, fresh crust aroma, curried potato puffs with apple chutney, colorful coleslaw, cheesy biscuits made with eggs – yum. When reading Day’s step-by-step biscuit making, including the use of vintage tools, I ‘made’ the biscuits along with Robbie in my mind. All that is missing is the list of exact amounts and it is a recipe unfolding on the page.
In “Grilled for Murder,” book #2 in the Country Store Mysteries, there is more than one secret to be uncovered, more than one mystery to be solved. A jaw dropping discovery about one of the local business owners reveals the lengths some people will go to in order to protect/save those they love. With life behind the scenes in a small restaurant, and a budding relationship thrown in, “Grilled for Murder” has the right combos for an entertaining read.
“When the Grits Hit the Fan,” book #3 in the Country Store Mysteries, was published in March, 2017. Maddie Day is Edith Maxwell. Please visit www.edithmaxwell.com for more information about the Country Store Mysteries as well as Maxwell’s other series.
Even better, what foodie/avid reader can resist a cookbook created by his/her favorite author?
The following twelve cookbooks have been recommended by the readers of Nightstand Book Reviews as part of their literary and/or cookbook collections. The cookbooks would definitely make a fun gift to a fan of any of the authors. There are some pretty famous writers in the mix and many of the cookbooks have been nominated for awards. 🙂 If you have tried any of the recipes, please let us know in the comments.
Click on the book title to learn more about the featured recipes.
In “The Coincidence of Coconut Cake,” Chef Lou Johnson is living her dream at her restaurant, Luella’s, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She’s making plans for the future and is engaged to Devlin, a prominent attorney. Life is good and getting better.
When Lou bakes a coconut cake for Devlin’s birthday and takes it to his apartment, his intern is there, barely dressed. It appears that Devlin is cheating on her. Devlin is a man who has disapproved of the crocs and casual clothes Lou wears in her everyday chef’s life and buys her expensive dresses because he thinks she doesn’t look after herself. He never understood her need to work/own a restaurant. She has brushed that aside and thought they could work it out, that eventually he would see how important her career is to her. Well, maybe not after the scantily clad gal has made her appearance.
Transplanted Brit and food critic, Al Waters, is looking for a way to leave town as quickly as possible, to get away from Milwaukee, Wisconsin – what he considers to be a Podunk region of the world. The restaurant reviews he writes under a pseudonym can ruin an eatery’s reputation, but all Waters wants to do is make a name for himself. His columns are selling newspapers and getting attention from employers, but sometimes play fast and loose with the facts – almost written before he actually eats at the places.
Al does a scathing review of Lou’s restaurant on the very night of the intern sighting. Groan. Business drops waaaaay off as a result. Double Groan. Suddenly, life can’t get any worse for Lou. The time is ripe for Lou to completely redo her life. What follows is a series of meetings with both Al and Lou keeping their real identities secret. Deception? Evasion? Attraction? What could go wrong in this tale of love’s beginnings and endings and new beginnings?
Amy E. Reichert has written a delightful novel about the way that fate can intervene when life falls off the rails and we are blindsided by events that run contrary to our Grand Plan. The reader is in on the secrets early on, but Reichert’s clever plot keeps us laughing as the main players stay in the dark. Supporting characters are far from cookie-cutter and have love stories of their own, with the result that “The Coincidence of Coconut Cake” serves up a rich selection from the love menu.
Having worked in several restaurants in order to work my way through college and/or learn the business for my own Grand Plan, I read the behind-the-scenes workings of Luella’s with special interest. Reichert reveals the dynamics of running a restaurant with just enough info to provide authenticity. Details such as the number of ‘covers’ and the division of labor in a kitchen, the attention paid to the ‘regulars’, the scars on the chef’s hands, and commitment to a career with long hours, supply the perfect flavor to “The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.”
While there are no actual recipes in the book, the food descriptions are mouthwatering. Cooks will find a lot to like and may even pick up some tips for food prep. It’s obvious that Al and Lou both love great food as they wander through the Milwaukee eateries and eventually cook for each other. They chat about their families’ influences on their professions, food adventures, and the best way to prepare a dish, with warm and often funny scenes. Their interactions are completely natural and we root for their relationship, despite the complications.
“The Coincidence of Coconut Cake” can be enjoyed as a book about second chances in love and life, but also as a surprising celebration of Milwaukee’s eateries. The book has all the elements for an endearing romantic comedy movie, but I’d love to have a piece of that coconut cake. 🙂