Today is National Talk-Like-a-Pirate day, which has nothing to do with the book review this week at all. I just had to share it. Today we enter a rural town in upstate New York and a family Castle. This is a debut of a new series by the author of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries. We will also hear some great tidbits about muffins. I found out that muffins are essentially bread based verses cupcakes that are cake based. So let's set sail for the North East and watch your backs, arrrrrg!
Copyright: September 2013 (Berkley) 304 pgs
Series: 1st in Merry Muffin Mystery
Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy
Main Characters: Merry Wynter, former Plus size model
Setting: Modern day, Upstate rural NY (Autumn Vale)
Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review
Merry Wynter is still grieving the death of her husband from seven years ago. She leaves the New York fashion scene after some financial gambles that fail and a bad experience with her super-model boss. She had inherited a house and property from an estranged uncle several months ago and now goes to find why it isn't selling because she could use the money. She finds she has inherited a castle and untended grounds. The property has been dug up leaving large gaping holes all over -- no wonder it won't sell. She decides to stay and fix the grounds and castle so it will sell.
Her good friend Shilo, a thin model, comes out to stay with her. Soon, the Autumn Vale residents slowly share that her uncle had been suing a construction company and some folks even believe her Uncle Melvyn had killed the owner of Turner Construction, Rusty Turner, before he then died in an auto accident. But Merry is also told that even her uncle's death is suspicious. There are secrets within secrets in this town. Then there is a murder on the grounds of her new property and she doesn't know what to believe.
Merry loves to bake muffins, and begins baking several batches a week for the local assisted living home. Thus the muffin theme. Recipes included.
Merry Wynter is a former plus sized model (so I already love the break from the perfectly thin character.) She is directionally challenged, grieving yet strong, independent, smart, creative, and caring. An all-around great main character. Shilo, the BFF, never shares about her past and thus mystery surrounds her. She is a great friend to Merry and provides a little whimsy. Sheriff Virgil Grace has trust issues and is too serious - but he naturally is the potential romantic interest. Jack McGill is the easy going realtor who falls for Shilo. Although he is often around in the story, he is somewhat in the background. I would like to have him in the forefront more because he is an interesting character. Binny Turner is the owner and baker of the local specialty pastry shop and the daughter to Rusty Turner who is missing but presumed dead. Gogi Grace, the Sheriff's mother, created and runs the Golden Acres assisted living home and is a force of nature. I think she is a breakout character in this novel. Lizzy is a local teenager, living with her grandmother who doesn't know who her father is. Lizzy discovers major pieces to the puzzle and is also a great breakout character.
The quirky but economically challenged town of Autumn Vale grows on you. It is rural, with street names that change so a map is useless. The castle interior is sparsely used in this debut, but I look forward to more in the next installments. But the grounds of the Wynter Castle are used to great effect. The Arboretum, a botanical garden containing living collection of trees, on the vast grounds is a significant location in the story during the climax. It was nicely utilized in a few instances.
This cozy novel holds some surprises in the layered plot and subplots involving the characters. There is more than you initially suspect in this novel. The plot has some good twists and I did not foresee a few of the surprises thrown at the reader. The climax was dramatic and exciting, which always makes me like a book. The wrap-up sets up the next book perfectly and has the reader anxiously anticipating when the next in the series will be released.
This debut novel provides a great cast of characters and an engaging plot in a beautiful setting. The story pulls the reader in and by the end, you will feel as though you know the people and want to return to visit soon. As if that weren't enough, the included recipes are great. I made the Bacon Cheddar Muffins and they are scrumptious.
Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list