It took me awhile to hop on the cozy mystery train.
I recall seeing that section in the bookstore full of brightly colored covers with catchy titles that were always plays on words and I’d move by it without any interest. It was only after reading a Tweet featuring a just published book a literary agent living in North Carolina that solved mysteries (ahem – I am also a literary agent living in North Carolina) that I gave these stories a try. And… I was hooked.
With the charming picturesque setting full of business owners in cute passion-driven shops, I found a type of aspirational genre. I want to live in these towns. I want to own my own coffee/bookstore/magical bake shop too! What I don’t want is to live in a community with a disproportionally high murder rate, but that is an element of the genre I am willing to suspend disbelief!
It is that aspirational element of cozy mysteries that I think makes them so very popular, particularly during times when the media bombards us with negative images and messages and social media feeds are full of political rants. Not only are cozy mysteries aspirational, they’re escapism. And as a mother of three boys who love their screen time, I am constantly monitoring how much time my children are online, making sure they’re not on social media sites and having old fashion fun like playing with board games, going outside and generally doing anything not related to technology. Sometimes I think the Amish have it right with their no electricity rule. No electricity, no Internet to create technology-addicted children.
So, escaping for just a few hours into a cozy town where all shops are local, all food is farm-to-table, household products are natural and kids aren’t walking around with earbuds stuck in their ears and cellphones stuck to their hands… sounds really, really nice. When I received an ARC of Amanda Flower’s Lethal Licorice, I was primed to read her Amish cozy mystery with a candy shop theme. But first, I purchased the audiobook of Assaulted Caramel (get it? A salted caramel…) because I always like to begin at the beginning.
Right off the bat, I”ll say An Amish Candy Shop Mystery series hits all of the marks for a cozy: interesting, independent feisty amateur sleuth, a prominent theme, a cute, cozy, quirky town, an eccentric cast of interesting and diabolical townsfolk and a hunky first responder – in this case a sheriff’s deputy who is also not Amish.
This series is also my introduction to Amish-themed fiction. It’s always a challenge to create a fresh take on a genre that is trope-tastic but Flowers has found a way to recreate the cozy mystery within the sometimes inflexible confines of Amish life. Conflict is inherent, and I love learning about the Amish and all of their complexities. Flower’s writes about the Amish with both compassion and a critical eye, and her take on the positives and negatives about this community deepen with each story.
Flowers provides us with a fish-out-of-water character in New York-based chocolatier Bailey King who visits her Amish grandparents. And it is through her eyes that we see the Amish community of Harvest, Ohio, meet its inhabitants and navigate our way through Amish and non-Amish mores. Using a narrator with ties to the Amish community, but that is not of the community is a clever way to write the story, since some readers may think the story too “exotic” to relate to. But with us experiencing the story through Bailey’s non-Amish eyes, we see their world just as if we we’re visiting an Amish community for the first time.
As an avid fan of cozies, I don’t always think it is important to provide a detailed description of each story in a cozy series, because if you’re in love with the set-up of the story, happy with the strength of the writing and connected to the main character, does it matter what the story is about? It doesn’t. Not really. You know there’s a mystery to be solved and you’ll enjoy tagging along for the investigation and learning about the overall arc of the series.
Assaulted Caramel is a delicious mystery full of white, dark and milk chocolate truffles. You’ll probably want to eat some chocolate after reading this story. The author, who is both an Agatha Award winner and a seasoned writer provides a well-written, excellently plotted mystery with richly developed characters. If you love food-themed cozies, you’ll probably love Assaulted Caramel. If you’re looking for a first-time Amish story, you’ll enjoy this as well. And if you’re just a fan of a solid mystery, Assaulted Caramel fits that bill too.
The second book in the Amish Candy Mystery, Lethal Licorice is a deliciously suspenseful
mystery set during a candy competition in Harvest, Ohio featuring spicy licorice, sweet, silken taffy and decadently flavorful fudge.
This story continues to follow Bailey as she takes over her grandfather’s Amish candy shop, experiences more friction in her community, learns about her family roots and falls slowly for the sexy sheriff’s deputy. The author, Amanda Flowers gifts the reader with another perfectly crafted mystery in which it is difficult to pinpoint the murderer. Attention is given to develop all of the characters and their motives, so nothing is formulaic or predictable. It is a satisfyingly sweet read with a fulfilling conclusion.
Once again, this story will probably have you searching online for the history of the Amish. Or maybe that’s just me – I’m very curious. And then you’ll be searching Yelp for the best chocolate shops in your areas. Foodie-themed cozies leave me hungry or wanting to cook. And finally, you’ll be waiting impatiently for book three in the series Premeditated Peppermint, pssst – there’s a sneak peak at the end of the book!
While Lethal Licorice can be enjoyed as a standalone, do yourself a favor and read the first book in the series. If you love candy-themed mysteries, this is a series you’ll want to read from start to finish.