by A.G. Mayes
Series: The Magic Pie Shop #1
Publication Date: January 25, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Susanna Daniels has spent over twenty years wondering why her beloved Aunt Erma disappeared from her life. When Aunt Erma leaves a voicemail asking for help at her pie shop, Susanna thinks she’s finally going to get the answers she’s been waiting for.
But when Susanna arrives in the small town of Hocus Hills, Aunt Erma is gone, leaving only a short note and her mischievous dog, Mitzy. Running a pie shop is harder than Susanna could have ever imagined. To top it off she has an inspector and an overzealous gym owner breathing down her neck. Then a cookie shop opens up down the street bringing competition she can’t afford.
As if that isn’t enough, strange things start happening around town.
I have a thing for magic baking books, so I really wanted to like this book. I think it was going for some sort of cozy mystery with a dash of magical realism, but it never quite hit the mark.
It’s told from the first-person POV of Susanna, handyman. She has fond memories of baking with her Aunt Erma as a child before something happened between her mom and aunt, and her aunt cut contact with the family. Years later, she receives a phone call out of the blue from the aunt, asking her to come watch her shop, so Susanna, naturally, drops everything. When she arrives in the town of Hocus Hills, however, her aunt is nowhere to be found. So, she decides to settle in and manage the shop while she’s gone, helped along by her aunt’s wacky friends. As the days drag on and Susanna struggles to keep the shop open, her aunt’s continued disappearance seems more and more strange, not to mention, something’s off with the town. Can Susanna figure out what happened while keeping the pie shop running?
Let’s start out by addressing my main issue with the book. Since Susanna goes most of the book without knowing that magic exists, there’s very little magic in the book, so since I went into this expecting lots of magical baking, I was very disappointed. On top of that, though she spent lots of happy hours baking with her aunt as a child, she has absolutely no idea how to bake. She doesn’t know the difference between evaporated milk and regular milk, or how to make a pie crust, or even what ingredients you’d need to make a pie crust. I’m going to assume that if you’re picking up a book about magical baking, you’re at least somewhat good at it (or have binge watched enough Great British Bake-off to pretend you are), so Susanna’s kitchen ineptness was especially exasperating. Where’s all the delicious magical pies I was promised?
The plot was alright, if very predictable. I guessed from the second chapter what had happened to Aunt Erma and why, and there weren’t any real red herrings to distract me from that. While I don’t necessarily expect cozy mysteries to be unpredictable, it’s usually offset by a cast of wacky characters or a very likable heroine. Some of the side characters were OK – I liked the Morning Pie Crew, though I thought they still lacked depth – but Gina, the owner of a local gym who gets ridiculously frustrated that Susanna won’t offer a low-calorie pie (what even?), was about as flimsy as the toilet paper Susanna TPs her rival’s cookie shop with (yes, honestly, that’s her form of revenge). The big reveal comes not from one of her new friends, but from a letter (seriously!) she finds when she finally starts snooping around her aunt’s apartment after she’s been missing… for a few weeks. And then, the plot just quickly wraps itself up, and bam, end of the book.
‘Have you heard anything from your aunt?’ Flora asked.
‘No. I’m starting to get more than a little worried.’
‘I wouldn’t worry,’ she said. ‘Sometimes a woman just has some things to take care of.’ Her voice was perfectly calm, but her brow furrowed in the middle a little when she talked.
My other main issue with the book was that Susanna acts in utterly inexplicable ways. Her aunt is missing, none of her good friends know where she’s gone – or even seem worried about it – and yet no one bothers to contact the police (magical or otherwise). It does turn out that there are people in town investigating something related, but rather than be worried that the nice missing baker might be a victim, they assume she’s the main suspect, and that Susanna must be her accomplice. Susanna, for her part, is completely oblivious to the weirdness going on around her, chalking it up to small town weirdness. Instead of worrying about her missing aunt, she instead has time to go pull teen vandal pranks on the businesses of two people who were mean to her, which was a particularly bizarre plot point for me. I just didn’t understand where Susanna was coming from, and it made it hard to enjoy the book.
Overall, I can’t really recommend this book. It’s certainly cozy, but with a so-so mystery and lackluster characters, it wasn’t a good fit for me.