First in a new cozy mystery series featuring Southern cooking that is to die for.
Aspiring chef and small-town Virginia native Amy Flowers is ready to open her own café offering old-fashioned Southern food. But her dream may go up in smoke when someone kills the competition…
Tired of waiting tables at Lou’s Joint, Amy Flowers doesn’t just quit—she offers to buy the place from her bully of a boss, so she can finally open the café of her dreams. Amy can’t wait to serve the kind of Southern, down-home treats and dishes that her grandmother always loved to the kooky cast of regulars at the restaurant. She knows her comfort food will be the talk of the sweet, small town of Winter Garden, Virginia.
At first Lou Lou refuses to sell, but when she seems ready to make a deal, she tells Amy to come see her. Showing up at the eatery ready to negotiate, Amy is shocked to find her former employer murdered. As the prime suspect, Amy will have to clear her name by serving up the real killer—and with Lou Lou’s stack of enemies, that’s a tall order.
Includes delicious Southern recipes
SERIES: Down South Cafe Mysteries #1
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
PUBLISHER: Obsidian Mystery/Penguin
RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2016
Excerpt from The Calamity Cafe
I took a deep breath, tightened my ponytail, and got out of my yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I knew from experience that the morning rush at Lou’s Joint had passed and that the lunch crowd wouldn’t be there yet. I put my letter of resignation in my purse and headed inside. Homer Pickens was seated at the counter with a cup of coffee. He was a regular . . . and when I say regular, I mean it. The man came to the café every morning at ten o’clock, lingered over a sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee, and left at ten forty. It was ten fifteen a.m.
“Good morning, Homer,” I said. “Who’s your hero today?”
“Shel Silverstein,” he said.
“Good choice.” I smiled and patted his shoulder. Homer was a retiree in his late sixties, and he chose a new hero every day.
You see, when Homer was a little boy, he noticed his daddy wasn’t around like other kids’ daddies. So he asked his mom about him. She told him that his dad had died but that he’d been a great baseball player, which is why she’d named him Homer. When Homer was a teenager, she’d finally leveled with him and said his father hadn’t been a baseball player . . . that he’d basically been a bum . . . but that Homer didn’t need a father to inspire him. Heroes were everywhere. Since then, Homer had chosen a new hero every day. It was like his inspiration. I looked forward to hearing Homer’s answer to my question every day I worked. When I was off from work, he told me who his hero was the day I asked plus the day I’d missed.
I could sympathize with Homer’s desire for a heroic father figure. My dad left Mom and me when I was four. I don’t really remember him at all.
“That apple tree? The one he wrote about? I have one like it in my backyard,” Homer said. “I cherish it. I’d never cut it down.”
“I’m sure the rain we’ve had the past couple of days has helped it grow. You bring me some apples off that tree this fall, and I’ll make you a pie,” I told him.
My cousin Jackie came from the back with a washcloth and a spray bottle of cleaner. She and I had waitressed together at the café for over a year. Jackie had been there for two years, and in fact, it was she who’d helped me get the job.
My mind drifted to when I’d come back home to work for Lou Lou. I’d just finished up culinary school in Kentucky. Nana’s health had been declining for the past two or three years, but it had picked up speed. As soon as I’d graduated, I’d come home and started working at Lou’s Joint so I could be at Nana’s house within ten minutes if I was needed. I was only biding my time at first, waiting for a chef’s position to come open somewhere. But, then, Nana had died. And, although I knew I could’ve asked her for a loan to open a café at any time, I wouldn’t have. I guess I got my streak of pride from my mother. But the money Nana had left me had made my dream a reality—I could open my café and stay right here at home.
“Morning, Amy!” said Jackie. “Guess what—Granny says she has a new Pinterest board. It’s called Things I’d Love to Eat but Won’t Fix Because What’s the Point Anyway Since I Don’t Like to Cook Anymore.”
I laughed. “I don’t think they’d let her have a name that long.”
“That’s what I figured. It’s probably called Things I’d Love to Eat, but she threw that last bit in there hoping we’ll make some of this stuff for her.”
“And we probably will.”
Jackie’s granny was my great-aunt Elizabeth, but Mom and I had always just called her “Aunt Bess.” Aunt Bess was eighty-two and had recently discovered the wonders of the Internet. She had a number of Pinterest boards, had a Facebook page with a 1940s pinup for a profile pic, and trolled the dating sites whenever they offered a free weekend.
Lou Lou heard us talking and waddled to the window separating the kitchen from the dining room. She had a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip. She tucked it into the corner of her mouth while she spoke. “Thought I heard your voice, Amy. You ain’t here for your paycheck, are you? Because that won’t be ready until tomorrow, and you ain’t picking it up until after your shift.”
“That’s not why I’m here,” I said. “Could we talk privately, please?”
“Fine, but if you’re just wanting to complain about me taking half the waitresses’ tips again, you might as well not waste your breath. If it wasn’t for me, y’all wouldn’t have jobs here, so I deserve half of what you get.”
Jackie rolled her eyes at me and then got to cleaning tables before Lou Lou bawled her out.
We deserved all of our tips and then some, especially since Lou Lou didn’t pay minimum wage and gave us more grief than some of the waitresses could bear. That’s why I was here. Lou Lou Holman was a bully, and I aimed to put her out of business.
Speaking of daddies, Lou Lou had been named after hers—hence the Lou Lou, rather than Lulu—and according to my late grandmother, she looked just like him. He’d kept his hair dyed jet-black until he was put into the Winter Garden Nursing Home, and afterward, he put shoe polish on his head. According to Nana, he ruined many a pillowcase before the staff found his stash of shoe polish and did away with it.
Lou Lou wore her black hair in a tall beehive with pin curls on either side of her large round face. Her eyes were blue, a fact that was overpowered by the cobalt eye shadow she wore. She shaved her eyebrows, drew thin black upside-down Vs where they should be, and added false eyelashes to complete the look.
Today Lou Lou wore a floor-length blue-and-white floral-print muumuu, and she had a white plastic hibiscus in her hair just above the pin curl on the left. She shuffled into the office, let me go in ahead of her, and then closed the door. I could smell her perfume—a cloying jasmine—mixed with this morning’s bacon and the cigarette, and I was more anxious than ever to get our business over with. She sat down behind her desk and looked at me.
I perched on the chair in front of the desk, reached into my purse, and took out the letter. As I handed it to her, I said, “I’m turning in my two-week notice.”
“Well, I ain’t surprised,” she said, stubbing the cigarette into the ashtray. “I heard your granny left you some money when she passed last year. I reckon you’ve decided to take it easy.”
“No. Actually, I’d like to buy your café.”
Her eyes got so wide that her false eyelashes brushed against the tops of her inverted V eyebrows. “Is that a fact, Amy?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is.” I lifted my chin. “I’m a good cook—better than good, as a matter of fact—and I want to put my skills . . . my passion . . . to work for me.”
“If you think you can just waltz in here all high and mighty and take my daddy’s business away from me, you’ve got another think coming,” said Lou Lou.
“If you don’t sell to me, I’m going to open up my own café. I just thought I should give you fair warning before I do.”
Lou Lou scoffed. “You’ve got some nerve thinking you can run me out of business. You bring on the competition, girlie! We’ll see who comes out ahead.”
“All right.” I stood. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be here tomorrow for my shift.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll mail you your final check.”
“I’ll be here,” I said. “I don’t want any of the other waitresses to have to work a double on my account.”
“Suit yourself. But don’t be surprised if I take the cost of putting an ad in the paper for a new waitress out of your salary.”
I simply turned and walked out of the office. I knew that legally Lou Lou couldn’t take her ad cost out of my pay. But Lou Lou did a lot of things that weren’t right. I figured whatever she did to me in retaliation for my leaving wasn’t worth putting up a fight over . . . not now. I’d pick my battles.
I’d also pick my wallpaper, my curtains, my flooring, my chairs, stools, and tables, my logo . . . My lips curled into a smile before I’d even realized it.
Such a fun book! I was hooked from the first chapter and stayed that way through the entire story. A town full of engaging characters, a very compelling main character, a hint of romantic possibility with the hunky police detective (plus a bonus secondary romance behind the scenes!), food to make you drool, and a case that kept me guessing – all of these things put The Calamity Cafe at the top of my cozy mystery list!
The mystery in The Calamity Cafe is layered just enough to stay interesting but not complicated enough to lose the “cozy”. I enjoyed unraveling the various threads along with Amy and her friends (and hunky Ryan), particularly the “sacrifice of the big hair” she endured for the sake of some intelligence gathering.
The characters are fun and friendly, and I would love to stop in at the Down South Cafe for a sausage biscuit with Homer or a piece of oatmeal pie with Jackie and a chat with Amy. I’d also totally be one of those tourists who would grab a t-shirt and/or apron while I was at it.
Bottom Line: A cleverly constructed plot, well-written characters, and a setting that feels like the town next door all blend together to form the perfect recipe for a new series! Gayle Leeson (and her alter ego Amanda Lee) is now on my go-to list of cozy mystery authors, and I am looking forward to future installments in this series while I catch up on her backlist. Cute, clean, and cozy, The Calamity Cafe has all the right ingredients for a great read!
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
My Rating: 4 stars / Loved it!
Gayle Leeson lives in Virginia with her family, which includes a dog who adores her and a cat who can take her or leave her. She includes the meat loaf recipe in this book that her grandmother Marilyn Hicks taught her to make. For Gayle, a sandwich made with this meat loaf, fresh bread, and yellow mustard is a sentimental culinary delight.
Leeson, who is a native Virginian, also writes as Amanda Lee (the Embroidery Mystery series), Gayle Trent, and G.V. Trent.
Other Books by Gayle Leeson
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