Reading and summer seem to go together, and not just because schools are out. Summer is hot, so when you have down time, nothing beats a cool beverage and a good book. Here are some of the books I’ve been reading, all from authors who are new to me.

  1. Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton (2017)

Chef Carrie Ann Cole has long dreamed of being personal chef to celebrities, so she is thrilled to accept that position under that Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It means moving from Chicago to London, leaving behind her boyfriend of six years, and getting used to life at Kensington Palace—where she has her own chambermaid (whom she never lays eyes on), virtually every door has a key card, and a number of the male employees are extremely attractive. Carrie Ann has not even gone through orientation when she finds her assistant, Frank, dead in the kitchen’s greenhouse. Worse, her other assistant, Michael, is arrested for the murder. In the ensuing days, she must hire new staff, dodge the ire of the palace’s head chef, and find a way to prepare healthy, wholesome meals for the royal family without access to her kitchen. Oh, and, if Michael is ever going to come back to work, she had better prove his innocence.

This novel is well paced, clever, and fun—I never had an inkling as to the murderer’s identity, yet the solution makes perfect sense. Like so many foodie mysteries, this one includes recipes. I never make them, but they are fun to peruse from time to time. They are also placed in the back of the novel, rather than interspersed throughout, so they don’t intrude in the narrative. Kale to the Queen is the first in a new series, which now includes a second novel, Lord of the Pies (2018).

  1. Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass (2013)

Librarian Minnie Hamilton is proud to launch her pet project, the new bookmobile for Chilson, Michigan. Eddie, the tabby cat who adopted her six months ago, stows away and becomes the new bookmobile mascot. Thus begins the Bookmobile Cat Mysteries, which now has seven installments. This is a fun series with an amusing cat who helps sniff out clues. Minnie, for her part, is a hard-working, determined woman who is, unfortunately, a bit of a doormat when it comes to romance. Nevertheless, she is driven to help people, including, er, helping the police with their murder investigations. After all, research is what librarians do best!

This is a low-key cozy series with a likeable sleuth and amusing supporting characters. It’s amusing and logical. Minnie cares about the people around her, even the ones she does not like. At the same time, she displays just the right amount of introspection, encouraging a bit of self-evaluation and improvement in the reader. Eddie’s personality, based on a real-life feline, is skillfully wrought. Any cat lover will easily recognize the relationship between cat and human. These books make excellent downtime reading.

  1. Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanne Fluke (2018)

This novel is #22 featuring Hannah Swensen. This is one series it is probably best to read from the beginning. I started with this one, and was at a disadvantage. The characters’ personalities have already been established in previous novels, so the details are sparse here. Here is what I could glean. Hannah Swensen, our unlucky-in-love heroine, has her own café in a small Minnesota town. She spends most of her time thinking about baking and trying out new recipes on family and friends. Occasionally, she will take freshly-baked goods to people as excuses/bribes when she needs to question them, so she can solve a murder. In fact, every conversation in the book seems to take place over food, and often includes food as subject matter. As for the other characters in the book, they like to eat. I understood the various roles of the female characters; however, not having read the previous books, I found it hard to differentiate the male characters. By the end of the book, the two characters I felt I knew best—though not extremely well—were Hannah and her cat, Moishe.

And at least once, someone calls a recipe by its proper name, including capitalized letters. It doesn’t strike me as a natural way to speak; yes, one might occasionally do that, but it seems a bit like overkill here.

In fact, my initial impression was that this is actually a cookbook with occasional bits of fiction thrown in—but, of course, that is an exaggeration. Every couple of chapters or so, the book has three or four pages of recipes; since I don’t like to interrupt the flow of the story (and I rarely cook or bake), I skipped most of these. Nevertheless, once I got to the end, I was sufficiently intrigued to want to read more in the series. I picked up three more at a recent trip to the library, and I’ve already read #14, Devil’s Food Cake Murder (2011). I really liked that one, and felt like I was getting a better handle on the characters’ identities. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.