Very Original Paperback Originals
Mystery Scene|Fall #165, 2020
While Bailey Cates’s Witches and Wedding Cake(Berkley, $7.99) is the ninth in her Magical Bakery series, it was the first for me, and I appreciated that I could slide into the narrative effortlessly.
Robin Agnew

Cates has included an almost overwhelming array of cozy mystery elements— magic, baking, a cute animal (the main character carries her dog familiar in her purse), a book club, and the ultimate romantic ingredient—a wedding. The good news is that she manages to blend them all deliciously.

The book begins with the nuptial preparations for series heroine Katie Lightfoot. As she crosses the last item off her checklist for a perfect wedding, thinking herself in the clear, things inevitably start to go off the rails. The officiant cancels. When she goes to an Airbnb to meet her fiancé’s family, the ex of his youngest sister shows up, obviously unwelcome and desperate to win her back by any means necessary. He ends up dead, with Katie’s future sisters-in-law as the prime suspects. When they plead with her to clear them, Katie agrees to investigate against her better judgement.

Much seems to hinge on the hideous music box the dead man offered his ex to make up. Nobody can figure out how this unappealing object could possibly be of value, and Katie must penetrate a phalanx of estate sales and antique appraisers in her search for the truth.

This is a gently told story, interspersed with wedding planning and cooking, much of the latter infused with the magical nature of the various herbs Katie uses in her preparations. Author Cates describes herself as a “master herbalist,” and provides fascinating details about her area of expertise.

Katie is a “kitchen witch” and a member of a local coven composed of ladies with varying powers. With her supernatural know-how, Katie discovers that the dead man had been using a “glamour” to make himself more powerful and attractive, with possibly fatal results. Because the powers and spells described are fairly mild and just a step away from the ordinary, the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief is greatly enhanced, which adds to the pleasures of the book. And who doesn’t love the inclusion of some good recipes at the end of the tale?

Sometimes a cozy writer makes a book memorable through the use of character. Cheryl Hollon’s Still Knife Painting (Kensington, $7.99) opens with the main character’s anxiety upon discovering a dead body. This angst is described so credibly and vividly that before you know it, you are transported completely inside her head. It’s not an easy thing for an author to create and summon such insight—it’s a bit of magic a little different from that described by Bates in her books because in this case, the magic is of the real.

This new series features Miranda Trent, who has returned to her roots (and her uncle’s old farmhouse) in Wolfe County, Kentucky, to start a business. Paint & Shine consists of Miranda leading tourists on a nature hike, where they settle en plein air to create a painting under her guidance, then return to her farmhouse for a down-home meal accompanied by moonshine pairings.

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