The Diva Paints the Town by Krista Davis

This was a hard book to write about. The story was okay and only okay. I enjoyed the previous two books of this series but this was not my favorite. The storylines seemed disjointed and I never got caught up in the whodunit this time. I just didn’t seem to care.

Sophie really needs to get over this patheticness with Wolf. Am I the only woman in the world who is direct and would just ask what the hell was going on? I know I am not. I’m not sure why Sophie doesn’t just check things out.

The fourth book in this series, The Diva Cooks a Goose, presumably a Christmas story, is due out in December 2010.

The Diva Takes the Cake by Krista Davis

Hannah’s wedding to Craig is still on and just a day or so away when things start to go awry. Natasha, of course, interferes and tries to change some – all!- of Sophie’s plans, including the wedding venue. The wedding is called off, back on, and off, then on. There are myriad reasons why Bridezilla (also known as Hannah) is freaking out and Sophie hopes beyond reason that she will come to her senses and NOT marry Craig. Does she or doesn’t she? You’ll have to read it to find out!

It wouldn’t be a cozy mystery if there weren’t subplots as well. There seems to be tension between Sophie and Wolf but Sophie doesn’t know why. She finds out and they resolve it – but it’s so silly. I can’t believe a grown man would be upset about this specific thing and not just ask about it. Of course, I’m a lesbian, so what do I know?
Natasha and Mars are having relationship drama, too. Oh – and an entire group of characters show up for the wedding and THEY all have stuff going on too. It’s a wonder anything gets done around there.

I enjoyed this book but, I have to tell you, I was relieved when Sophie finally told Natasha off. I swear to GOD, I would never have been so patient … or possibly so doormat-ish. While I’m complaining, let me say this: Sophie’s mom needs to knock it off. Sophie does not need to lose weight or wear more lipstick or anything else. Further, if Sophie’s mom thought that Natasha stole Mars from Sophie, why on EARTH is she friendly with that woman? That makes no sense. I’d kick my mom’s butt if she were friendly with my “arch enemy.” Natasha calls Sophie her best friend at one point – and Sophie didn’t even laugh. Best friend? Wow. I’d hate to see how she treats her enemies.

The next of this series is The Diva Paints the Town, which is the last of the series, thus far. It was just published in February, so it may be a minute before there’s another one. That’s okay. Once I finish The Diva Paints the Town, I have other series to read! Still, I hope Ms. Davis finishes the next book before February 2011!

The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis

The first time I tried to read this book, I only read about half of the first chapter and I put it down. The fault clearly was with me because the second time I picked it up, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

So here’s the basics: Sophie Winston is a Washington, DC event planner whose childhood rival is a local celebrity – the Martha Stewart of Washington. Sophie’s family is at her house for Thanksgiving – stressful enough, right? Then someone is killed, someone is poisoned, other crimes are being committed and Sophie has to find out what the heck is going on before she ends up the one charged with the initial murder and who knows what all else?

Sophie is an interesting woman – sort of an Everywoman, if you overlook her penchant for ignoring the police and getting involved in homicide investigations. She is friendly with her ex-husband but can’t believe he’s dating her rival, she loves her parents but has had enough of the family visit and wishes her sister well while (not so) secretly disapproving of the sister’s new fiancé. She keeps inviting people into her home because she’s warm and friendly – but also can’t figure out how to get out of it. Things we all have experienced.

There are a couple of clichés in The Diva Runs Out of Thyme (such as the romantic interest being a detective) but overall it’s an excellent cozy mystery. I liked it enough that I immediately went to amazon.com and bought the other two books in the series. The Diva Takes the Cake is up next!

The Proof is in the Pudding by Melinda Wells

For once Della thinks Phil Logan, publicist for In the Kitchen with Della, had found her a publicity opportunity that would be relatively simple. All she had to do was wear a fabulous designer dress and judge a cooking contest. How much simpler could it get? Of course, things are never what they originally seem when one is reading a mystery novel!

Della’s honorary daughter, Eileen, gets her heart broken the day before the Celebrity Cook-Off Charity Gala, where Della is to be a judge. The sticky part? One of the contestants is the man who broke Eileen’s heart – and tries to blackmail her to boot. Eileen gathers herself, though, and along with her parents, John and Shannon, and Della’s other best friends, Libby and Bill, she attends the Gala to support Aunt Della.

Things seem to be going well until John decks Keith Ingram, the contest who had the ill-fated realationship with Eileen. The evening goes downhill from there – there is a fire and once the smoke has cleared, Keith Ingram is found dead. Naturally, given the altercation he had with the murder victim, John is a suspect. To make matters worse, the detective who is assigned to the case is convinced that John is the murderer and basically doesn’t pursue any other leads. Della can’t let this happen to her friends, so she sets out to investigate.

Of course, we find out who the real killer is and it isn’t John. I have to say, Ms. Wells fooled me. I was surprised by the actual murderer in the end. I always like that! There were a couple of places where I laughed right out loud – I think Della is a hoot. I also love her relationship with Liddy and also Eileen. Della is someone I’d love to hang out with – if only she were real! Of course, I’d probably end up arrested if I hung out with Della too long!

The Proof is in the Pudding just came out in February 2010, so it doesn’t look likely that another book will be published soon. I’m going to add a “Upcoming Books from My Favorite Authors” page soon, so check back and as soon as I know when book 4 is coming out, I”ll be sure to let you know!

Death Takes the Cake by Melinda Wells

Della isn’t terribly excited to find out that she has been entered into a cake baking contest. The TV station that broadcasts her show thinks it will be good publicity. Della agrees that it would be good publicity and she needs the show to be successful, so she’s game.

Unfortunately, the contest is sponsored by the company of a college nemesis – and the company makes Reggi-Mixx, the worst cake mixes imaginable. Della’s up to the challenge, though, and she starts thinking about how to make the not-tasty cake mix yummy.

Then Reggie, the nemesis in question, ends up dead in Della’s cooking station at the Reggi-Mixx offices, where the contest is being held. Luckily, Della isn’t a suspect (for very long) this time because she was on the air at the time of the murder.

Still, she gets involved because her best friend’s husband is implicated in the murder. Della can’t just sit by and watch her friend’s husband be convicted for a murder he didn’t commit.

Along the way there are romantic problems – and solutions – and the discovery of all kinds of secrets.

Death Takes the Cake is at times funny, always entertaining and as realistic as it can be given the unlikely “TV show as sleuth” situation. There are enough details to keep you guessing as to what’s coming next but not so many as to drive you nuts trying to keep everything straight. The peripheral characters (Iva, Micky, etc) are being fleshed out as the series progresses, which is always interesting to me.

I’ve got The Proof is in the Pudding in my bag to read next.

Killer Mousse by Melinda Wells

I have a secret fantasy: one of these days I’m going to get brave enough to submit an audition video for The Next Food Network Star, they’ll choose me to participate, I’ll win easily and then go on to be the next Rachel Ray or Nigella Lawson.

Della Carmichael didn’t share my fantasy but, nonetheless, she ends up with a cooking show on a cable TV station. In the Kitchen with Della debuts with a delicious dinner of Easy Cranberry Chicken, a vegetable side dish and Killer Mousse. The Killer Mousse, to quote the back cover of the book, lived up to its name when Della’s predecessor taste tests it and winds up dead on the floor.

Of course, Della is a suspect but so are a number of others. I have to say, though – the person who turned out to be The One surprised me!

Della is the sort of woman I’d like to be friends with. She is a good cook, but not really so much a celebrity chef sort, she has great friends, a loving relationship with her mother and sisters – and a vintage Mustang! (An aside: why do so many of the female leads of cozy mysteries drive vintage cars?) She doesn’t have a problem-free life – she’s a widow who took the job at the TV station so that it could fund her real love – her cooking school.

Della also behaves much like I think a real person would given the situation she finds herself in. That is to say: she panics, then she does what she has to do. She just keeps going on, as we all do.

That’s probably why we like these cozy mysteries: the women in them are enough like us that we can imagine ourselves in these situations.

Makeovers Can Be Murder by Kathryn Lilley

Kate Gallagher, investigative journalist and the heroine of the Fat City Mysteries cannot catch a romantic break. In Dying to Be Thin, her boyfriend had just dumped her. In Killer Workout, it’s a mixed bag: her boyfriend breaks up with her because she isn’t ready to marry him but she meets up with a man she thought was long out of her life – Detective Jonathon Reed. In Makeovers Can Be MurderDetective Reed breaks Kate’s heart, sadly. Rather spectacularly, actually.

There is more personal drama for Kate – her rival, Lainey Lanston, moved from being a print journalist to being a TV reporter – and is in keen competition for Kate’s stories. Kate’s boss seems to be favoring Lainey so she’s quite concerned for her job.

Then there is the assignment she has – a piece on diet scams and how they are costing consumers millions of dollars a year for things that simply do not work. Sounds like a great story, right? Except the first installment requires a size-16 Kate to wear a bikini on the air. Yeah, she’s thrilled.

As usual, the story is fun to read and very well-done. Lilley keeps you guessing as to identity of the murderer. What I didn’t like –though I have to say it’s probably realistic – is the tone Kate has taken with regard to her body. Kate has always had something of a love-hate relationship with her body but in Makeovers Can Be Murder, she has taken to saying things like calling herself “Bloberella.” When she finds out the Jonathon’s ex-wife, Gi, is stunningly gorgeous – and petite – she wonders how he could ever want her after being with someone like Gi. She thinks to herself, How can the man who loved this incredible beauty be satisfied with someone who is overweight and out of shape? How can he want me after Gi?”

In the end, all is well, though I won’t spoil the story for you by giving away the ending.

I emailed Ms. Lilley to find out when the next book will be coming out. She doesn’t have a title for it, but says there will be a new Fat City Mystery coming out later this year. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Kate.